Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir




Genre: Fantasy, YA
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published: April 2015
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Pages: 400 {UK paperback}

Original review on Goodreads

An Ember in the Ashes

The Story
Alright-i-o. Where do I start? An Ember in the Ashes is an incredible story about a dystopian society split into different, shall we say, groups. (Ah, ah, ah! Don’t tsk and roll eyes Divergent and The Hunger Games die-hard fans. Allow me to elaborate).

The two main groups that we need to worry about are the Marshals (scary, army, badass/evil people) and the Scholars (quaint, book-loving subordinates). There are also gypsies and a few other nasties but I’ll let you discover those, yourself. Laia is the main character along with a boy call Elias. Laia is a scholar whose parents are dead and at the beginning her brother is taken away by the Marshals. Presumably, he will die. She loses the rest of her family and must find a way to survive, and, as any good sibling would do, to try and save her brother, Darin. Elias is a Marshal who hates his mask (Marshals wear specials masks that actually bind themselves to the face so they can’t be removed. Ick). He has a secret, and he’s number one in his year – but most importantly he’s having a bit of a crisis because he doesn’t want to be a Marshal, *collective gasp*.

The Marshals go through rigorous training throughout their life (they’re at the camp/school thingy from the age of 8 or something ridonkulous like that) and a good portion of them die throughout the years. There’s a group of undercover resistance fighters that the Marshals are often preoccupied with – and hey, who can blame the resistance (Scholars)? If you lose your lifestyle, family, friends, and freedom I’ll be betting you’d jump on that bandwagon too. This is the obvious place to go for a young, completely cut-off girl: Laia. Through the resistance she manages to get placed within the Marshal camp/school thing where she ‘acts’ as The Commandant’s (cue: shudders) serving girl; the more information she retrieves for the resistance, the harder they will try to save Darin. And thus the adventures begin.

What I Loved
Apart from everything, there are certain aspects that I liked above others. I was extraordinarily surprised with how much I did enjoy this book. I was convinced, for reasons even I can’t explain, that I wasn’t going to enjoy it and that it’d be a slog to get through. Boy-o-boy was I wrong.

Firstly, let’s talk about Laia. She’s young, but hot-damn does that girl have fight in her. She’s not your typical heroine – she does spend a good amount of time freaking out. Which is exactly what I would do; if I were shoved into the den of the (>>insert terrifying animal here<<) I would also be having to tell myself that I am brave, smart, strong, and capable – and then on the inside wanting nothing more to quit and just play the good servant to save my skin. So high-five to cowardly people pretending to be awesome!

Secondly, I love the world. I adore what Tahir has created. I did notice (perhaps this is what pre-established a shaky relationship between me and this book) a lot of people saying there’s a lot of world building. And then proceeding to rate is slightly lower because, ew, world building, right? Weeell, I love world building. It just slows the reading pace down . . . but really, I have no qualms; if you’re a Robin Hobb fan then, mate, don’t even worry. Yet I didn’t feel like there was a lot of world building – yes, there’s a lot to establish but I think that Tahir has done this wonderfully subtly and it’s super easy to read.

Thirdly! The action! Oh my goodness gracious me was this delectable. Apart from toying with us and pretending to kill basically all her characters at some point in this book, Tahir has constructed such a wonderful story that is well seasoned with swords, fists, wit, and super-sleuthing. I won’t spoiler you as to what the main action is but I can just about guarantee the goody-goody hand rubbing you’ll be doing.

Click here to see a spoiler section that is hidden on my Goodreads review.

I honestly wasn’t expecting the turns that the plot took and was so pleasantly surprised when the book became what can only be described as awesome.

Why You Should Read It
1) This is very, very awesome.
2) Characters to die for.
3) Action.
4) Beautifully, intriguing world.
5) The sequel is obviously going to blow our minds.

Laia & Darin
So I’ve already explained a little about these two so I’ll attempt to not ramble too much. Laia and Darin are siblings; Darin is the strong, brave one and Laia is, well, not. She seems hyper-aware of how unlike her deceased mother she is with her lack of fight (but hey, survival is key) and whatnot, which, as I said, I actually liked about her character. Because of this apparent weakness in her it really makes her heroic deeds so much more meaningful. I literally do not think I can wait to find out what she’s planning on doing in the second book, A Torch Against the Light. Darin obviously doesn’t really feature much as he’s imprisoned for the entire book – but I’m not actually sure if I like him. We will see.

Elias & Helene
Elias, again, I’ve spoken about. He’s going through some trouble as to whether to leave or stay and who the bad guys really are. A lot of this book is him kind of figuring this out. I really enjoyed his relationship with Helene and I hoped this develops more in book numero due.

Click here to see a spoiler where it will be hidden on my Goodreads review.

Helene was fantastic, she was the strong, female figure that Laia was not. In fact, she’s so similar to Hermione (minus wand, plus sword) that it’s scary – she’s clearly harbouring some damn strong feeling for Elias.

Marcus & Zak
Assholes. That is all.

The Commandant, Mazen, & Keenan
*Shuddering* You guys, have fun sleeping once you’ve met the Commandant. She’s pre-eetty nasty. Also, something smelt off about Mazen from page one. But I’m not saying anything more on him. I think the Commandant is an excellent evil character – she very interesting because of her unknown desires and ‘allies’ (although guessable, we are kept in the dark) which makes the plot just that bit scarier. She’s as happy to kill people as I am about making daisy chains – ain’t gonna put a dent in my day. Doctor Who fans, you’ll know what I mean here:

*More shuddering*. And then there’s Keenan. To be honest, I don’t know where this is going. He swings from baddie to goodie to friend, blah blah blah. I think we’re supposed to like him but I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he took off a mask and revealed himself as Voldemort. Again, we will see.

Click here to see a spoiler hidden on my Goodreads review.

Izzi & Cook
These two were great. I love the added voices of wisdom they offered and I’m really upset about Izzi’s eye. Also, who the heck is Cook?! I think I might hate her in the next book . . . I think.

One thousand times yes! You simply need to give this book a whirl – it’s just so enjoyable. I’m going to be pre-ordering book number two as soon as I can. I loved this book whole-heartedly and I was very upset that it had the audacity to finish. I highly recommend that you grab a copy of this and give it a go, this feels like a big thing, guys. It’s so original and I really hope this is adapted into a movi. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. And I think you will, too.




What did you think of An Ember in the Ashes? Have you read any similar books? Let me know your thoughts below!

Arrivederci tutti and happy reading!
~~ Kirstie ~~

2 thoughts on “Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

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