book review

An Ember in the Ashes – SO SO good

I loved this book a lot. It made me very happy. You should go read it asap, but if you want to know why I liked it, I have helpfully provided a synopsis and a review.

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Do you want to read about revenge and freedom and love and awesome people and fighting and betrayal and amazingness and a Rome-Middle Eastern hybrid fantasy world? Then this book is for you. Every character in this book is well written, the themes of choice and individuality and brutality are dealt with so well, the worldbuilding is so well done and the plot doesn’t stop moving. But if that isn’t enough to convince you to read this, I’m going to write an entire review anyway.
Elias is like the best ever He has been raised as a Martial, and is one of the leading people of the academy (and the Commandants son), but he doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t want to be the Mask who rapes and kills, he wants to be compassionate and thoughtful His relationships- especially that with Helene were amazingly written and I am so glad that Here are some quotes about him which I loved.

“Help her, Elias. But I can’t…The risk or punishment is too great”

And then he gets braver and more developed, with help.

“Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged, but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you, Elias'”

even though

“He’s never been anything more than a Mask”

he is compassionate and insightful and loving.
Laia is courageous and confused and passionate She is forced to be a slave to save her brother, and she feels eternally guilty about abandoning them. I loved how that choice impacted all of her decisions as the novel progressed. Her background -jam making and walking around the Scholar Quarter with her brother- was revealed just right, and I understood that. Her relationships with Keenan and Elias were perfectly written and I could feel her fear and confusion, but I especially loved that she realized that others had it worse than her. Not enough YA heroines are aware of that Her development was interesting, and she began to take a lot more action as the book progressed which was great. She has doubts though

“My doubts rise insiduously from the soil of my mind, like creeping, choking vines “

She was so brave and quiet and oh boy, I don’t want to be a slave.
So Helene is pretty much my favourite character (though I love Cook and Izzi and Keenan and Elias and Laia as well) because she was so complex And therefore, so interesting. She follows the rules, but loves so fiercely and wonderfully.  Sabaa Tahir paints her as this torn character who is obviously trying to save lives but is also a martial and also loves her best friend. Her anger made me angry too. She thinks like a Martial

“But it was them or us so it’s hard to feel guilty”

” That I should think of [Scholars] as equals? We conquered them. We rule them now. It’s the way of the world “

She’s fierce and desperate to hold on to her identity even when it erodes all the good that’s in her -love and mercy.
I love most of the other characters too, but this review is getting long
The world is impeccably built. the desert, the city and academy are all so real and so wonderful and it’s fabulous. The mythology- jinn and efrit- are built well into the novel, as are the tribespeople and the slaves. My favourite part was the Moon festival (though religion wasn’t really a factor- it wasn’t too well explained) because we saw all of the interaction, and that was awesome. The ranks of the army and Masks also immersed me in Serra.
The themes in this book are pretty much everything I like Trust. Hope. Friendship. Betrayal. And especially violence vs. compassion.

“I warn you now, if you show mercy, if you hesitate to kill, there will be consequences”

“Where there is life, there is hope”

“You will be changed to the darkness withing yourself as surely as if chained to the wall of a prison”

” Seeing the enemy as human. A generals ultimate nightmare”

Yet both Helene and Elias confront very human enemies, and deal with the consequences. These themes are built on through the Trials. The Trials help the characters to realise who they are (and even Laia goes through her own Trials) and it culminates in Elias’s realisation that he’d

“Rather die than live with no mercy, no honour, no soul”

The idea of friendship and loyalty and trust is also developed, but I can’t talk about it much because SPOILERS. I love this book so there are going to be more quotes
-about freedom

“This is freedom! Our destiny is power and death and violence”

And Laia’s destiny is to be a member of the Resistance, but all the characters seek to do their best in a rigid world.

“The freedom to go to my death knowing it’s for the right reason. The freedom to call my soul my own. The freedom to salvage some small goodness by dying for something that is worth dying for”

-about guilt

“You’ll be trailing ghosts now. Just like the rest of us. “

– and in case you doubted the beauty of the figurative language used in this novel

“The simulacrum falls into a pile of laughing shadows, their cackles falling against my ears like slivers of ice”

The plot of this novel is seamlessly switches perspective. It is horribly intense and there are visions and pain and magic and anger and death. I loved it so much. I am dying for a sequel. These characters are worth holding onto, and you should read it now.

What is your favourite quality in a character? Have you read this book yet? Does a story world of Rome and the Middle East appeal to you? Tell me in the comments!


6 thoughts on “An Ember in the Ashes – SO SO good

  1. YAY!!! 🙂 I am soooo happy to see another glowing review for this one. Caits review, over at Paper Fury, had got me a little bit nervous. The things she didn’t like seemed to be things that I would struggle with to, but I just love the sound of this book and really hope I love it as much as you did.


  2. Aaaah, I hesitated on EMBER because of a couple of so-so reviews, but the positive reviews are pouring in now SOOOOO. Yep. I’m nabbing this. Those quotes are just gorgeous, thanks for picking them out!


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