An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Posted March 23, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 4 Comments

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes

by Sabaa Tahir

Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1
Publisher: Razorbill on April 28, 2015
Genre: Dystopia, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


This book is so well-loved.  It’s one of the few that my friends who read have strongly recommended to me… friends outside the blogosphere.  Here in the book blogging world, An Ember in the Ashes is so beloved and highly suggested.  I was sure it was going to have incredible characters and so much adventure and that I was going to love it.  I never thought for a moment I would feel otherwise.

I feel otherwise now.

I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry guys… but I just couldn’t to get into it.  I’ve had this book on my TBR for a while, and I’ve had the audiobook on hold through the library for over 6 months.  I was really looking forward to it and I came at it with an open heart, so ready to love it.  But honestly?  It didn’t connect.  I was bored.  On many different levels.

The writing felt so stiff to me, with a lot of the emotions being stated instead of felt.  This bled into every aspect of the book, from the characterization to the action sequences to the setting.  It brought the pace down to a crawl and even though I sped up my narration, I still felt like it was dragging.  I could only listen to about an hour at a time, because I found myself fading off, bored and indifferent.  I’m an avid audiobook listener – this almost never happens to me.  I never felt this world come to life, and it’s such a shame.

Maybe if the characters were a little more… I don’t know… alive?  Relatable?  Round?  I would like this more.  It felt like something was missing at the core of them, that they were words on a page and nothing more.  I stopped caring about Laia shortly after her introduction.  Laia had no personality to me – a lot of words about how she couldn’t do something, and then she does it effortlessly.  She went through pain, but didn’t suffer for long enough to make it believable.  And there’s a few different scenes where someone comes to Laia’s aid and it just didn’t make sense to me – the instant loyalty or the forgiveness.

Elias started with more promise.  He had established relationships with those around him and an established place in the world.  His backstory stuck to him a little better than Laia’s (not a lot better, though).  Furthermore, he had drive and motivation that fit in with his character profile for me.  At first.  But after a while, Elias began to grate on me – everything he did was gratuitous and his survival in the continuing challenges didn’t make sense.  By all rights, Elias should have died several times, I think.  Or, at least, had people turn strongly against him.  There are a few moments where he is almost likable, where a relationship almost appears with another, but these weren’t strong enough to make me feel the loss in the trials.

And don’t get started with my feelings about the friendship/relationship/something between Elias and Helene.  I have issues.  Helene started out as a great character, the strongest in the book, and it was just torn asunder to make way for Elias, creating another completely unnecessary and uninteresting romantic arc in a book full of them.  I was so disappointed by this choice – I felt like it tore Helene’s character to shreds to make her such a doting puppy.

So… yeah.  I have feelings about the characters.

The most basic outline of the plot is interesting.  I really liked the idea of the trails, even though I felt like the world building reason for them was super flimsy.  Laia’s desire to rescue the only family she had left is admirable, but her character growth arc was too easy and effortless to give the situation as much gravitas as it perhaps deserved.  I still want to like the story, but I can’t get past how much I didn’t like it.

And I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I still intend to read the hardcopy of this book.  I have a paperback I got a couple summers ago and I’m determined that my dislike here was just because of the audiobook or the narrators or something.  I did find myself getting frustrated with them, particularly the pronunciation of Laia (I kept hearing “liar” and it threw me) and some of Steve West’s pauses in Elias’ narration.  Which flabbergasts me, honestly, because I loved his reading of Strange the Dreamer.  I’m so befuddled by how little I liked this well-loved book that I’m willing to give it another chance.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★
Writing: ★★★
Pacing: ★★
Narrator: ★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★ 


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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4 responses to “An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

  1. All of this!! I wanted so badly to like this book, and I tried but I just . . . didn’t care. Everything about this book fell really flat to me. It was all *almost* great, it had so much potential, but I never really felt it met that potential.

    • Amber

      Did you ever go on to read the next book? I guess I’m just so determined to figure out what’s so great about it, I’m sorta hoping that it picks up pace, gets better? I feel the same way about Throne of Glass. I just want to understand whyyyy.