An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir // I’m left entirely unsatisfied

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir // I’m left entirely unsatisfiedAn Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill on April 28th 2015
Genres: Fantasy (YA)
Pages: 446
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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.

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This is such a hard one for me to review. I actually am writing this review before I even give it a star rating to see how my thoughts come together. So let’s just dive in.

It started off so great for me. I was intrigued; I loved the 2 POVs and how each chapter would end with just enough of a cliffhanger you had to continue reading. Eventually, the story became slightly predictable. I found myself guessing what was going to happen well before it actually happened, especially the matter with the rebels. Thus, the story was very difficult for me to stay invested in.


The main characters were well written, but they weren’t exactly active characters. Most of the story depends on what other people do or tell them to do and their reactions. However, you do get to see drastic changes, mainly in Laia. She starts out as a very weak girl, putting her trust in people who maybe she shouldn’t. Throughout the story she grows into her own person and you really get to experience it. Elias, on the other hand, does not go through much character development. He starts off wanting out of the Empire and struggling with his duty as a Mask; it basically stays that way throughout.

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As I stated before, I enjoyed the writing style at first (the 2 POVs), but it eventually fell flat for me. The pacing of the story is up and down through out. It’ll pick up with an exciting event but then will slow down – to a verrry slow crawl- then suddenly something great happens again. It’s an odd structure to read and stay interested in.

The world building left you wanting more. By the end of the book, I still had no real vivid image of what the world looked like – the buildings, the landscape, the streets – it was all very vague. The only thing that helped me were the maps in the front and back of the book (hardcover edition). That was such a disappointment because in a fantasy novel it’s something that really helps build the fictional environment, otherwise you’re left with nothing to visualize and place yourself in.

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Overall, it wasn’t a terrible read. The story was interesting and it was dark and gritty at some points. All the while, the world building lacked, character development was so-so depending on the character and the story itself was a bit predictable. I think my expectations were set very high because of all the hype surrounding this book. So with that in mind, I don’t hate this book nor love this book, it fell right in the middle for me. I will probably read the sequel since Laia really grew as a character at the end so I want to see where the author takes her.

The last thing I want to touch on is the brutality in this novel. It is a Young Adult novel, but there are some controversial topics that are addressed – mainly rape and torture. I’ve seen mixed reviews of this issue, but it was something that had a positive impact for me. WAIT, let me explain. So many Young Adult novels sugar coat things. It’s as if things like torture or rape just never happen. It’s irritating, especially if a novel takes place in an ancient/medieval type setting. It’s not as if this book went overboard with it – there were no detailed descriptions of rape, no overly gory torture scenes – but it addressed them, made it well-known that it occurred in this world. I think this saved the issue I had with the world building because it created a dark and hostile environment, one that helped you understand Laia’s passivity and naivety. However, because of these scenes in the book, I don’t recommend this to much younger audiences, rather to high school and up.

Rating Report
World Building
Overall: 3 / 5

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