Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir [An Ember in the Ashes #1] | A Compelling Start to a YA Fantasy Quartet set in a brutal, Roman-inspired Empire

“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.”

Life is made of many books (though they all mean a lot). Then one day, a single book (aka AEITA) comes along to define every book that comes after. Such books are stories of courage, of strength.



Genre(s): Fantasy | Age: Young Adult
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1

Published: 28 April 2015 | Read: 12 December 2020
No. of Pages: 446 (Hardcover)

Click here to view Trigger Warnings ↴ Rape, sexual assault, physical abuse, child abuse, death (including that of children and loved ones), guilt & fear, slavery, torture

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.

Goodreads | Amazon


“All the beauty of the stars means nothing when life here on earth is so ugly.”

An Ember in the Ashes gave me so much Hunger Games vibes… with the cruel system and government, shards of rebellion who want to overthrow the leaders etc. I was over this dystopia setting for books but somehow I enjoyed it a lot in An Ember in the Ashes. The plot was so captivating, with so many different aspects such as trials, spying and many action-packed scenes.

What made the plot even more thrilling as well as intense was how high the stakes were. I am not kidding, the world was excellently crafted and scared me so much by its harshness and brutality. Guys, this book was like choke full of violence and pretty graphic. It made me a bit edgy at times with all the pain and suffering, but also strengthened my anger on behalf of the characters when they were stretched to their physical and mental limits which I felt was powerful.

Another aspect of An Ember in the Ashes that I loved was the world building. The Martial Empire was inspired by Rome and folklore. The history, the society, some magical elements were all fascinating to read about, especially when they didn’t dominate the whole plot. One thing I loved the most was the way guilt and fear were physically represented as a certain supernatural element… these emotions suddenly became tangible, and allowed me to be able to visualize them plaguing Laia.

“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. You have a soul. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.”

Believe me when I say that Sabaa Tahir has an almost magical way with words. The language is quite simple but is so gripping. An Ember in the Ashes is so well written and it is partially thanks to the writing that the action scenes were that thrilling.

“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”

Laia was such an incredible main character. I loved how she started out weak, she started out a bit selfish, she started out ordinary. How she made a bad choice which haunted her but she had the strength to take the first step to acknowledge it and use it to fuel her. Finally we have a character who isn’t magically “the perfect badass heroine” at the start, not that I dislike characters like that, but rather it was refreshing for Laia to be different.

How she slowly grew in strength and courage through endless suffering definitely made me love her. How she pulled through and clung onto hope and the notion of saving her brother was so uplifting. I truly admired the loyal, honourable and determined woman she becomes and I am so excited to journeying with her over the other 3 books.

“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

I admit, the rebel among the top elites concept felt a bit cliche at first, but I quickly took a liking to Elias. How in the whole world did he manage to stay empathetic, to guard his heart from the darkness of the Empire while being bound by blood and moulded to be hardened by training since he was six? I loved seeing the struggle he went through, the high expectations vs what he knew was right.

The romance… This was the element that lowered my rating of this book. There was not one, but TWO love triangles. Big sigh. Love triangles and I were never friends, I found them a little pointless and annoying because they never work my way.

my reaction upon realising the love triangle (this may be my favourite gif haha)

For An Ember in the Ashes, I found both love triangles to be pretty useless. We all knew who was going to end up with who (or am I wrong??? because I haven’t read the rest of the series haha), and I absolutely hate giving characters stuck in the triangle false hope! It is not fair to them okay!

Furthermore, moving on from love triangles, I found most of the implied romance here quite roll eye worthy and borderline instalove… (please don’t kill me okay) in the sense that they kind of fell for each other after a few days and there was “instant connection”… uhmm, very questionable

But even so, do I ship them?

(I have officially become a hopeless romantic guys)

I am extremely pleased with the involvement of the side characters in this story! I loved their relationships with the MCs (except the ahem love triangles) and how it complicated things, I love how they brought much imbalance and danger to the story (except for marcus because I hate him so much ew)… and I am so curious about many of them – hopefully we get to understand them a bit more in the coming books.

“Nan always said that as long as there is life, there is hope.”

I loved An Ember in the Ashes, thank you everyone for posting reviews and talking about it such that I finally brought it to the top of my tbr! Apart from some stuff about the romance I was displeased by, this book was SO good… I’m super excited to see where the series goes next! SOMEONE GET ME THE SEQUEL. PLEASE.

rating // ★★★★

Have you read An Ember in the Ashes? How was the world and characters for you? If not, do you plan to?


59 thoughts on “Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir [An Ember in the Ashes #1] | A Compelling Start to a YA Fantasy Quartet set in a brutal, Roman-inspired Empire

  1. Ahhhhhh yess!!!! I will never be over how good this series is and I’m so happy that you enjoyed this book!! To be honest, the first book is my least favorite, mostly because of how edgy the subject matter was and some other things — but that being said, I still ended up giving it five stars 😅😂 So yeah, I totally get what you said about the romance.

    And ahhhh Laia!! Amazing, incredible, deserves-the-world-on-a-platter Laia ❤️ You’re in for a real treat with her character development in the next book — it only gets better from here!!

    I can’t wait to see what you think of the rest of the series!!! Great review Cherelle!! (Also, that Pororo gif gave me childhood flashbacks, I loved that show!) 💞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Abby! I would say that the first book is actually my least favourite too, only because all the books just keep getting better and better and so much pain… I just finished the series last night and I am NOT okay!! 😭😭 And definitely, Laia’s character development was so incredible, I really marvelled at how far she came towards the end of Sky… 🤩 Ahh, I’m smiling knowing that you enjoyed Pororo as a kid too… 🥰 Thanks for your comment! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OH MY GOSH already?!?!? I’m in awe, you seriously read so fast!!! I’m so happy to hear you loved the series and I agree, the series just keeps getting better and better 😍😍😍 If you need me I’ll be impatiently waiting for my hold on Torch to arrive so that I can experience the perfection of this series all over again 😭😭❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. No, haven’t but most likely will not read it- since you said it gave you Hunger Games vibes, I wasn’t buying it. I dislike The Hunger Games.

    As for the phrase “someone get me the sequel…NOW” reminded me of how I felt when I wanted the rest of the Shades of Magic trilogy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aha!!! Finally!!! At last!!! Um…it would probably be a spoiler if I tell you that it’s technically not a love triangle….cuz ….abcdefjh happens 😂 I really don’t wanna spoil you!! So glad you loved it!! Read the series ASAP!! So we can scream about it without spoiling you!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s official. I just got this series after reading your review! Woohoo! I have to finish The Mortal Instruments now so I can start on this one! 🏃‍♀️

    Awesome review as always, Cherelle! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. i’ve literally been waiting for you to post your review omg. i agree with you on the love triangles thing. i didn’t like it. but i think after you finish book 2 you’ll understand why it was important haha sabaa tahir never includes details that are unnecessary 😂 great review 💘

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review! I actually didn’t enjoy this series much just because…well there’s sort of a lot of military strategy (especially in the next two books) and just planning and less doing and that makes me like a book less…but I can definitely see why some people like it! I agree about the romance and love triangles…I wish just once that two people could meet in a story and NOT fall in love aaah. But I loved this review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Phoenix! I just finished the series and can agree with you, all the battle stuff was quite confusing ad a bit dry at times… but I still adored the characters anyway haha… YES OMG I am so glad you agree about love triangles, though I was quite impressed at how it played out, it still annoyed me a lot! Thank you once again for your lovely comment! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah…I haven’t read the fourth book yet and I kiiiinda forget what happened at the end of the third…but I think I remember it enough to read number 4. I’ll have to read it eventually, heh. Oh yeah, love triangles are just ew no thanks. I especially hate when the character in the center of the triangle is conflicted like aaaaaah. That plot twist in book two (about the triangle I mean) was crazy though…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved Ember as well, but the sequels got weaker and weaker IMO. Basically they somehow included every single trope I’ve ever hated, especially the last two ones. Ember is truly brilliant and touching, the sequels get worse and worse, but that’s just my opinion 🤷🏻‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh thanks for your opinion… good point, there were a lot of tropes in those last two… I really enjoyed reading your review on Goodreads and do agree on some things like how the MCs are incredibly lucky… Ember was a strong start, but I have to disagree on the sequels because I love the characters too much haha… thank you so much for your comment Klaus! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This book has been everyone on book Twitter and I wasn’t sure if I would like it but you had me at « hunger games vibes »; I don’t need more than this 😭😂😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES!! I AM SO EXCITED FOR YOU TO READ IT!!! I just finished the last book yesterday and the only word I now know is pain. pain. pain… Indeed, the covers are gorgeous… and the names of the books in the series are so satisfying to say haha! Thank you Alissa and happy reading Ember! 🤩

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I only read the first book but OH MY GOSH it took my very soul and ripped it out. That is the power of Sabaa Tahir. What you said about the writing is so spot on! The book was not hard to read but was still so mesmerizing.

    I haven’t read the rest of the books but everyone I know says it only gets better…and more heart wrenching…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh I am so pleased to hear that, or rather hope that your soul is doing okay now haha… I’m glad you agree on the writing… YES JAWAHIR! You absolutely NEED to read the rest of the books, especially now when the last book is out… I totally lost it and I’m still not recovered after a week or so… hope that you enjoy/get soul crushed when you do!! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Okay, need to read this. Now. XD Bummer about the love triangles though, I can barely tolerate one when it’s dragged on and on but there’s two? Ugh… Good to know the rest of the book makes up for that! 🙂 Hopefully I can get to this series next year! ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

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