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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review Wednesday: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (#1)

An Ember in the Ashes #1
Four-part series as of this review publishing

"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."

I SWEAR I read this before but it's not on my Goodreads read shelves... I feel like I'm losing my mind!  Anyway, the (presumed) second time around reading this book was lovely.  I'm thinking this series has the potential to be rotated into my rereading material.

“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.”

1.  The characters.  This is one of those books where motivations and intentions play a huge role and I loved every second.  Each character has their own reasons for doing things and the 'evil' characters are taken care of as well.  Personally, I found Elias' mother, the Commandant, to be especially fascinating.  She's such a cruel character but at the end we get this amazing glimpse at her inner thoughts and motivations and while that doesn't exactly justify what she's done, you can start to understand her a bit more.  I also really enjoyed the hidden undertones in the Resistance.  In most other fantasy novels with a dystopian-like feel, the Resistance are the good guys and they fight for the betterment of all.  In this novel, the Resistance is a little more fractured and not all is as it seems in relation to the two 'greatest leaders' in the history of the Resistance.  It's a bit lost and misguided and it is truly a sight to behold.

“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.”

2.  The plot.  The pacing of this is perfect if you don't like reading books in one sitting and you need moments of calm in order to set the book down.  The overarching plotline is structured like the traditional climax set up but there are multiple mini climaxes followed by moments of temporary calm that really help to segment the book without splitting it. (kind of like if you were a tiny person walking up and down in the depressions of a waffle.  I know that's a weird analogy but it's the most accurate one I could think of that didn't involve bugs!)  There are also multiple plotlines weaving together that make for a very interesting novel.

“Fear is only your enemy if you allow it to be.”

3.  The world.
  The world is very well built for a first installment.  We don't get much information about the world outside of where Laia and Elias currently reside in the Empire but there is promise of more with a map at the beginning and the mention of outside lands at the end and interspersed throughout.  The Empire itself is taking shape marvelously and you really get a sense of the culture and feeling.  The whole set up reminds me of the dynamics between the peoples in The Winner's Curse with the whole 'conquering culture' aspect.

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

4.  The romance.  I don't know how I feel about this.  On one hand, it really is a spin on the classic love triangle but on the other, it's still a love triangle and I almost tend to dislike them on principle now.  Elias has two potential partners: Helene and Laia.  Laia also has two potential partners: Keenan and Elias.  See the overlap?  It's almost like a love pentagram that has a million strings going everywhere.  Or a skewed Venn diagram.  There wasn't a lot of soul mate talk though which put me at ease a bit.  I suppose I'll just have to see how it works out in the following books.

“The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.”

The Final Verdict:

A well-orchestrated YA fantasy with plenty of intertwining plotlines and an interesting world.
4.5 stars

Will I continue with the series?
Yes, definitely.  I really do want to see how everything turns out!

Talk to me!  Have you read this?  What did you think of it?  How to you feel about love triangles and their weird, pentagram cousins?  Do you ever wish you could have a wall full of YA fantasy maps??


  1. I absolutely loved this book! Everything you said; the world, the characters, (especially Elias) and the plot was just amazing! I will say though, I wasn’t crazy about the second book in the series. I do think the series has been taking a step back.

    1. Yes I agree!! It's definite reread material :) Oh no, really?? That sucks. Hopefully it's just confined to the middle books and the last one steps up it's game. I can understand mid-series slumps but if it just spirals downhill? No thank you. Thanks for stopping by, Emily!

  2. This one is sitting on my shelf. I need to read it. Every time someone raves about it I get the itch to pick it up.

    1. Haha that's actually why I read it (or maybe reread...) now! One of my IRL friends I've been talking with has just been raving about how much she loves the series so I figured I should really read it so we could have a proper chat :D I hope you get the chance to pick this up soon, Jenny; I'd be really interested to hear your take on it!

  3. This makes me want to give this a try. I've seen it around of course but not sure I've read a review of it til now. Interesting that the world is so well done for a first book, and I love nuanced characters who you can kinda understand, even if they're nasty. This definitely sounds worth trying, in spite of the love shenanigans (not a fan of love triangles or needing a diagram to keep it straight either ha ha).

    Nice review!

    1. That's so strange how that happens with some books, isn't it? It's like they weren't even released, they just appeared (kind of like how you can't remember the start of a dream). That's something I always look for in fantasies. Maybe it's a high bar but I like for the first book to establish a strong sense of place and this book certainly did that. A lot of people argue that it isn't that hard in this situation because the idea of Rome is already pretty well known but there's so much more that goes into world-building in my opinion. I love characters like that as well! Morally gray is my jam :D Ughhhh me either! I used to be all for love triangles if done well but lately I've been finding myself becoming irritated with anything even resembling one. Hopefully that won't bring it down too much for you :) Thanks for stopping by, Greg!

  4. Ahh, I did enjoy these, but unfortunately I'm not rushing into Reaper because I really need to reread Ember and Torch and then I'll have to reread them all over again before the last book! Ha ha. So I'm saving them. I really enjoyed Ember but I remember being slightly hesitant about Torch... I can't tell you exactly why right now because I never reviewed the books ans my brain is a sieve! Possibly this love pentagram that you mentioned!? So we'll see how I go with them the next time around! I've heard Reaper is the best of them though... So that's exciting.

    1. Haha I completely understand! You'd think after reading so many books, we'd be better at remembering what they were about but I feel like it gets worse as time goes on :D The same thing happens to me! A big reason why I try to review every book I read, is so that when someone asks me 'did you like that book, I don't know if I should read it???' I can stealthily look back at my review and pretend I remembered the whole time. Hopefully you enjoy Reaper! It's always good to end on a high note. Thanks for stopping by, Di!

  5. I struggle to remember reading any books I haven't reviewed. There's something about the writing it down that glues the books more firmly into my brain. But then one gets released with a different cover or even under a different title and I'm sure I recognise it can't quite connect the dots!

    1. Me too! I have a vague idea that I read them and possibly a little on what they were about but that's it. That happens to me all the time with Agatha Christie books! There have been several that have been retitled and recovered and I actually reread one about halfway through before I realized it was the same as one I had read before. I feel like the book memory definitely gets worse with every book I read :D Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie!


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