Review: An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember In The Ashes Sabaa Tahir
An Ember In The Ashes Sabaa Tahir cover

Title: An Ember In The Ashes 
Author: Sabaa Tahir 
Series: An Ember In The Ashes #1 
Genre: Fantasy, YA 
Publication date: April 28, 2015 
Rating: ★★★★★ 

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.

The best lies come from the truth.

I just found out this book was originally meant as a stand-alone. I’m not sure what I would have done in that case. Died from grief, probably. The three weeks I have to wait until the release of A Torch Against The Night seem like real torture already. I’m relieved I’ve only read this book at this time. Now I might just have a chance at surviving the wait.

It has been quite some time since I’ve actually screamed out in agony at a book. Which I did in this case. Embarrassingly. But it was so wickedly cruel that I couldn’t help myself. I felt terrible when characters that loved and cared for each other were suddenly played against one another in a most horrific way. So I screamed and barely kept myself from tearing my hair out. Much good it did me. It didn’t help. Horror took place anyway. 

Fear is only your enemy if you allow it to be. Too much fear and you're paralyzed. Too little fear and you're arrogant.

An Ember in the Ashes was not what I had expected it to be. It reminded me a lot of The Darkest Minds in the way that it was a lot darker and took things a lot further than most young adult fantasies. There was killing and brutality, there was severe torture… and then there was all of that from people I’d actually started to love.

But it was good. It was so, so good. The darker and messier a story gets, the more it sucks me in. Makes me care. It makes me root for characters in the most heart wrecking way. Because there is grief. There always is in stories like this, and while it actually hurts, it also breeds a grim determination to keep faith in your newfound heroes and stick with them to the end.

I never feared the night, not even as a child, but Blackcliff’s night is different, heavy with a silence that makes you look over your shoulder, a silence that feels like a living thing.

Elias Veturius is one. A new personal hero. He is a prodigy amongst the graduates at the empire’s military academy Blackcliff and while most students and his friends admire him for it, it is a burden he’d rather shed off if he could. Because despite being one of the finest soldiers, he hates everything he’s doing. Everything he’s good at. He’d give anything to leave it all behind and to be free from all the horrors his kind stands for. But he can’t - and it almost ruins him. It makes him lonely and reckless. His heart is honest, genuine and pure. The struggle and storm raging inside of him went straight to my core and made my own heart ache accordingly. I believed in him, I understood him and I admired his courage and bravery. All I could do was hope for things to work out and instead everything kept growing worse. Remember me screaming? Yeah, it was all for him. 

Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.

I admired his friend Helene Aquilla just as much. A mere ‘side character’ some might say, but I wholeheartedly disagree. She was such a strong character. There was just as much conflict in her as in Elias, maybe even more. She is the only female student at Blackcliff and a sort of prodigy in her own way. Being the only girl deemed worthy to train at the academy is an incredible honor. It also isolates her from everyone else. But she is strong, she is confident and stands completely behind every ideal taught at the academy. Elias has been her best friend since childhood and although she doesn’t completely realize the exact depth of his doubts, she knows that he thinks differently. Which creates the need for constant compromising. A part of her wants to protect him from everything he’d go through if he were found out. The other part feels an obligation to the empire and knows he poses a threat. Which would all be bad enough in its own, but is worsened by the fact that she is also hopelessly in love with him. A love she knows is unrequited, a love she knows would never work because they are just too different. She hates it. Hates the jealousy she feels, hates the weakness it creates. There was so much true emotion in her, that even though sometimes it felt like she was the bad guy, Helene was the one I was rooting for. I so desperately want her to be happy. But the way things are now, I don’t think happiness is in her cards. Ugh, it physically hurts just think about it. I loved her so much. 

Helene’s no passing attraction. She’s family. More than that. She’s part of me. 

She's still clinging to the side of her mountain, just like I'm still wandering lost in my battlefield.

And then there’s Laia - who is actually the main character. A girl with a strong heart and a lion’s spirit. She was everything you would want a young heroine to be and still I missed a bit of a connection. I feel like we haven’t really seen everything she’s capable of. That she needs to develop more. Despite her admirable actions, she felt pretty young and inexperienced at times. Naive too. I’m really curious who she will become in the next book. I have great hopes for her, but in An Ember In The Ashes she was completely overshadowed by both Elias and Helene. Or maybe it was just that I could somehow relate better to the two of them. 

There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that's a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again.

The story itself is tense, fast-paced and creative. I liked the world building and the grim atmosphere of the military academy of Blackcliff. I liked the multi-layered side characters and the grey zones they operated in. I liked the conflict in the book and in myself. The plot is creative and strong. People are played against one other and there is the constant threat of total doom hanging over their heads. There is romance, but it never takes the focus away from the main story. Everything’s perfectly balanced. I had to restrain myself from rushing through the book, because I was so anxious to find out what was going to happen next. Sabaa Tahir wrote a most compelling story and I cannot wait to find out how it will evolve. Full five star book. If you haven’t read it.. what on earth are you waiting for? Go!

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