Books · REVIEWS

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

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

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.

Personal Thoughts:

When there’s an overwhelming amount of hype that surrounds a particular novel, I usually try my best not to pick up the book until my expectations lowered. So after months of ignoring the gorgeous copy from my shelf, I finally agreed to Precious to read An Ember in the Ashes together.

Being a fantasy novel, An Ember in the Ashes is a familiar ground to me. So familiar that sometimes it feels like I have read the same book before. The main characters, Elias and Laia are from different side of life. A mask and a scholar who are opposite in status but brought together by circumstances. The other came from the military, serving the government/emperor while the other once is from a group of rebels called the resistance. These two are our main narrator who delivered a flowing and gripping story in-spite of alternating point of views.

“Just because he’s a good leader doesn’t mean he’s a good person.”

Elias mother, The Commander is an interesting character but unfortunately wasn’t developed or explored much in this first installment. If only her motivations and reasons for being bad or not caring much about her son is explained or at least hinted more I might applaud the author for creating a menacing and well rounded villain.

Also, I still don’t understand how Elias’ mother become the Commander at the first place? For a world that is dominated by men, how come a woman like her managed to get the highest position in the military? And why she doesn’t have remorse for girls like to the slaves she has if ever she ever actually experience low treatment before? Isn’t it too convenient for the plot to have one girl once in a while to join the military just like having Helena as one of the top students, and Elias’ best friend who also like him more than a friend?

“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.”

The romance just didn’t work for me. I think I would prefer this better without any romance at all. As much I want to get the “feel” factor, the romance in here are more irritating than anything else (well at least for me). It’s not even the pairing or choices that I have issues with. The romance frustrate me because it feels unnecessary for the plot. It feels so force. The pairing, whichever pair it is has no spark at all.

Same with the gore and actions. As much as I enjoying reading all those gory details, I don’t think it gives any push to the plot. Sure I like the idea of the trials where the best of the best are fighting each other for the position of the next ruler. But is it really necessary? Is brutality the only way to become a ruler? What about intelligence, compassion?

All in all, An Ember in the Ashes is a gripping read with all its gore and actions but unfortunately I think it didn’t live the hype that surrounds it. Though I enjoy the story as a whole the plot holes and not so original plot lines are impossible to ignore.

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