BOOK ONE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING SERIES
Instant New York Times bestseller
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir
Amazon's Best Young Adult Book of 2015
People's Choice Award winner - Favorite Fantasy
Bustle's Best Young Adult Book of 2015
“This novel is a harrowing, haunting reminder of what it means to be human — and how hope might be kindled in the midst of oppression and fear.” — The Washington Post
“An Ember in the Ashes could launch Sabaa Tahir into JK Rowling territory…It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”—Public Radio International
"An Ember in the Ashes glows, burns, and smolders—as beautiful and radiant as it is searing."—Huffington Post
“A worthy novel – and one as brave as its characters.”—The New York Times Book Review
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.
About the Author
Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
For more information, please visit Sabaa at SabaaTahir.com or on Twitter @SabaaTahir.
Read an Excerpt
My big brother reaches home in the dark hours before dawn, when even ghosts take their rest. He smells of steel and coal and forge. He smells of the enemy.
He folds his scarecrow body through the window, bare feet silent on the rushes. A hot desert wind blows in after him, rustling the limp curtains. His sketchbook falls to the floor, and he nudges it under his bunk with a quick foot, as if it’s a snake.
Where have you been, Darin? In my head, I have the courage to ask the question, and Darin trusts me enough to answer. Why do you keep disappearing? Why, when Pop and Nan need you? When I need you?
Every night for almost two years, I’ve wanted to ask. Every night, I’ve lacked the courage. I have one sibling left. I don’t want him to shut me out like he has everyone else.
But tonight’s different. I know what’s in his sketchbook. I know what it means.
“You shouldn’t be awake.” Darin’s whisper jolts me from my thoughts. He has a cat’s sense for traps—he got it from our mother. I sit up on the bunk as he lights the lamp. No use pretending to be asleep.
“It’s past curfew, and three patrols have gone by. I was worried.”
“I can avoid the soldiers, Laia. Lots of practice.” He rests his chin on my bunk and smiles Mother’s sweet, crooked smile. A familiar look—the one he gives me if I wake from a nightmare or we run out of grain. Everything will be fine, the look says.
He picks up the book on my bed. “Gather in the Night,” he reads the title. “Spooky. What’s it about?”
“I just started it. It’s about a jinn—” I stop. Clever. Very clever. He likes hearing stories as much as I like telling them. “Forget that. Where were you? Pop had a dozen patients this morning.”
And I filled in for you because he can’t do so much alone. Which left Nan to bottle the trader’s jams by herself. Except she didn’t finish. Now the trader won’t pay us, and we’ll starve this winter, and why in the skies don’t you care?
I say these things in my head. The smile’s already dropped off Darin’s face.
“I’m not cut out for healing,” he says. “Pop knows that.”
I want to back down, but I think of Pop’s slumped shoulders this morning. I think of the sketchbook.
“Pop and Nan depend on you. At least talk to them. It’s been months.”
I wait for him to tell me that I don’t understand. That I should leave him be. But he just shakes his head, drops down into his bunk, and closes his eyes like he can’t be bothered to reply.
“I saw your drawings.” The words tumble out in a rush, and Darin’s up in an instant, his face stony. “I wasn’t spying,” I say. “One of the pages was loose. I found it when I changed the rushes this morning.”
“Did you tell Nan and Pop? Did they see?”
“Laia, listen.” Ten hells, I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to hear his excuses. “What you saw is dangerous,” he says. “You can’t tell anyone about it. Not ever. It’s not just my life at risk. There are others—”
“Are you working for the Empire, Darin? Are you working for the Martials?”
He is silent. I think I see the answer in his eyes, and I feel ill. My brother is a traitor to his own people? My brother is siding with the Empire?
If he hoarded grain, or sold books, or taught children to read, I’d understand. I’d be proud of him for doing the things I’m not brave enough to do. The Empire raids, jails, and kills for such “crimes,” but teaching a six-year-old her letters isn’t evil—not in the minds of my people, the Scholar people.
But what Darin has done is sick. It’s a betrayal.
“The Empire killed our parents,” I whisper. “Our sister.”
I want to shout at him, but I choke on the words. The Martials conquered Scholar lands five hundred years ago, and since then, they’ve done nothing but oppress and enslave us. Once, the Scholar Empire was home to the finest universities and libraries in the world. Now, most of our people can’t tell a school from an armory.
“How could you side with the Martials? How, Darin?”
“It’s not what you think, Laia. I’ll explain everything, but—”
He pauses suddenly, his hand jerking up to silence me when I ask for the promised explanation. He cocks his head toward the window.
Through the thin walls, I hear Pop’s snores, Nan shifting in her sleep, a mourning dove’s croon. Familiar sounds. Home sounds.
Darin hears something else. The blood drains from his face, and dread flashes in his eyes. “Laia,” he says. “Raid.”
“But if you work for the Empire—” Then why are the soldiers raiding us?
“I’m not working for them.” He sounds calm. Calmer than I feel. “Hide the sketchbook. That’s what they want. That’s what they’re here for.”
Then he’s out the door, and I’m alone. My bare legs move like cold molasses, my hands like wooden blocks. Hurry, Laia!
Usually, the Empire raids in the heat of the day. The soldiers want Scholar mothers and children to watch. They want fathers and brothers to see another man’s family enslaved. As bad as those raids are, the night raids are worse. The night raids are for when the Empire doesn’t want witnesses.
I wonder if this is real. If it’s a nightmare. It’s real, Laia. Move.
I drop the sketchbook out the window into a hedge. It’s a poor hiding place, but I have no time. Nan hobbles into my room. Her hands, so steady when she stirs vats of jam or braids my hair, flutter like frantic birds, desperate for me to move faster.
She pulls me into the hallway. Darin stands with Pop at the back door. My grandfather’s white hair is scattered as a haystack and his clothes are wrinkled, but there’s no sleep in the deep grooves of his face. He murmurs something to my brother, then hands him Nan’s largest kitchen knife. I don’t know why he bothers. Against the Serric steel of a Martial blade, the knife will only shatter.
“You and Darin leave through the backyard,” Nan says, her eyes darting from window to window. “They haven’t surrounded the house yet.”
No. No. No. “Nan,” I breathe her name, stumbling when she pushes me toward Pop.
“Hide in the east end of the Quarter—” Her sentence ends in a choke, her eyes on the front window. Through the ragged curtains, I catch a flash of a liquid silver face. My stomach clenches.
“A Mask,” Nan says. “They’ve brought a Mask. Go, Laia. Before he gets inside.”
“What about you? What about Pop?”
“We’ll hold them off.” Pop shoves me gently out the door. “Keep your secrets close, love. Listen to Darin. He’ll take care of you. Go.”
Darin’s lean shadow falls over me, and he grabs my hand as the door closes behind us. He slouches to blend into the warm night, moving silently across the loose sand of the backyard with a confidence I wish I felt. Although I am seventeen and old enough to control my fear, I grip his hand like it’s the only solid thing in this world.
I’m not working for them, Darin said. Then whom is he working for? Somehow, he got close enough to the forges of Serra to draw, in detail, the creation process of the Empire’s most precious asset: the unbreakable, curved scims that can cut through three men at once.
Half a millennium ago, the Scholars crumbled beneath the Martial invasion because our blades broke against their superior steel. Since then, we have learned nothing of steelcraft. The Martials hoard their secrets the way a miser hoards gold. Anyone caught near our city’s forges without good reason—Scholar or Martial—risks execution.
If Darin isn’t with the Empire, how did he get near Serra’s forges? How did the Martials find out about his sketchbook?
On the other side of the house, a fist pounds on the front door. Boots shuffle, steel clinks. I look around wildly, expecting to see the silver armor and red capes of Empire legionnaires, but the backyard is still. The fresh night air does nothing to stop the sweat rolling down my neck. Distantly, I hear the thud of drums from Blackcliff, the Mask training school. The sound sharpens my fear into a hard point stabbing at my center. The Empire doesn’t send those silver-faced monsters on just any raid.
The pounding on the door sounds again.
“In the name of the Empire,” an irritated voice says, “I demand you open this door.”
As one, Darin and I freeze.
“Doesn’t sound like a Mask,” Darin whispers. Masks speak softly with words that cut through you like a scim. In the time it would take a legionnaire to knock and issue an order, a Mask would already be in the house, weapons slicing through anyone in his way.
Darin meets my eyes, and I know we’re both thinking the same thing. If the Mask isn’t with the rest of the soldiers at the front door, then where is he?
“Don’t be afraid, Laia,” Darin says. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I want to believe him, but my fear is a tide tugging at my ankles, pulling me under. I think of the couple that lived next door: raided, imprisoned, and sold into slavery three weeks ago. Book smugglers, the Martials said. Five days after that, one of Pop’s oldest patients, a ninety-three-year-old man who could barely walk, was executed in his own home, his throat slit from ear to ear. Resistance collaborator.
What will the soldiers do to Nan and Pop? Jail them? Enslave them?
We reach the back gate. Darin stands on his toes to unhook the latch when a scrape in the alley beyond stops him short. A breeze sighs past, sending a cloud of dust into the air.
Darin pushes me behind him. His knuckles are white around the knife handle as the gate swings open with a moan. A finger of terror draws a trail up my spine. I peer over my brother’s shoulder into the alley.
There is nothing out there but the quiet shifting of sand. Nothing but the occasional gust of wind and the shuttered windows of our sleeping neighbors.
I sigh in relief and step around Darin.
That’s when the Mask emerges from the darkness and walks through the gate.
The deserter will be dead before dawn.
His tracks zigzag like a struck deer’s in the dust of Serra’s catacombs. The tunnels have done him in. The hot air is too heavy down here, the smells of death and rot too close.
The tracks are more than an hour old by the time I see them. The guards have his scent now, poor bastard. If he’s lucky, he’ll die in the chase. If not . . .
Don’t think about it. Hide the backpack. Get out of here.
Skulls crunch as I shove a pack loaded with food and water into a wall crypt. Helene would give me hell if she could see how I’m treating the dead. But then, if Helene finds out why I’m down here in the first place, desecration will be the least of her complaints.
She won’t find out. Not until it’s too late. Guilt pricks at me, but I shove it away. Helene’s the strongest person I know. She’ll be fine without me.
For what feels like the hundredth time, I look over my shoulder. The tunnel is quiet. The deserter led the soldiers in the opposite direction. But safety’s an illusion I know never to trust. I work quickly, piling bones back in front of the crypt to cover my trail, my senses primed for anything out of the ordinary.
One more day of this. One more day of paranoia and hiding and lying. One day until graduation. Then I’ll be free.
As I rearrange the crypt’s skulls, the hot air shifts like a bear waking from hibernation. The smells of grass and snow cut through the fetid breath of the tunnel. Two seconds is all I have to step away from the crypt and kneel, examining the ground as if there might be tracks here. Then she is at my back.
“Elias? What are you doing down here?”
“Didn’t you hear? There’s a deserter loose.” I keep my attention fixed on the dusty floor. Beneath the silver mask that covers me from forehead to jaw, my face should be unreadable. But Helene Aquilla and I have been together nearly every day of the fourteen years we’ve been training at Blackcliff Military Academy; she can probably hear me thinking.
She comes around me silently, and I look up into her eyes, as blue and pale as the warm waters of the southern islands. My mask sits atop my face, separate and foreign, hiding my features as well as my emotions. But Hel’s mask clings to her like a silvery second skin, and I can see the slight furrow in her brow as she looks down at me. Relax, Elias, I tell myself. You’re just looking for a deserter.
“He didn’t come this way,” Hel says. She runs a hand over her hair, braided, as always, into a tight, silver-blonde crown. “Dex took an auxiliary company off the north watchtower and into the East Branch tunnel. You think they’ll catch him?”
Aux soldiers, though not as highly trained as legionnaires and nothing compared to Masks, are still merciless hunters. “Of course they’ll catch him.” I fail to keep the bitterness out of my voice, and Helene gives me a hard look. “The cowardly scum,” I add. “Anyway, why are you awake? You weren’t on watch this morning.” I made sure of it.
“Those bleeding drums.” Helene looks around the tunnel. “Woke everyone up.”
The drums. Of course. Deserter, they’d thundered in the middle of the graveyard watch. All active units to the walls. Helene must have decided to join the hunt. Dex, my lieutenant, would have told her which direction I’d gone. He’d have thought nothing of it.
“I thought the deserter might have come this way.” I turn from my hidden pack to look down another tunnel. “Guess I was wrong. I should catch up to Dex.”
“Much as I hate to admit it, you’re not usually wrong.” Helene cocks her head and smiles at me. I feel that guilt again, wrenching as a fist to the gut. She’ll be furious when she learns what I’ve done. She’ll never forgive me. Doesn’t matter. You’ve decided. Can’t turn back now.
Hel traces the dust on the ground with a fair, practiced hand. “I’ve never even seen this tunnel before.”
A drop of sweat crawls down my neck. I ignore it.
“It’s hot, and it reeks,” I say. “Like everything else down here.” Come on, I want to add. But doing so would be like tattooing “I am up to no good” on my forehead. I keep quiet and lean against the catacomb wall, arms crossed.
The field of battle is my temple. I mentally chant a saying my grandfather taught me the day he met me, when I was six. He insists it sharpens the mind the way a whetstone sharpens a blade. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.
Helene peers at my blurred tracks, following them, somehow, to the crypt where I stowed my pack, to the skulls piled there. She’s suspicious, and the air between us is suddenly tense.
I need to distract her. As she looks between me and the crypt, I run my gaze lazily down her body. She stands two inches shy of six feet—a half-foot shorter than me. She’s the only female student at Blackcliff; in the black, close-fitting fatigues all students wear, her strong, slender form has always drawn admiring glances. Just not mine. We’ve been friends too long for that.
Come on, notice. Notice me leering and get mad about it.
When I meet her eyes, brazen as a sailor fresh into port, she opens her mouth, as if to rip into me. Then she looks back at the crypt.
If she sees the pack and guesses what I’m up to, I’m done for. She might hate doing it, but Empire law would demand she report me, and Helene’s never broken a law in her life.
I prepare my lie. Just wanted to get away for a couple of days, Hel. Needed some time to think. Didn’t want to worry you.
Without thought, I translate the disparate beats into the message they are meant to convey. Deserter caught. All students report to central courtyard immediately.
My stomach sinks. Some naïve part of me hoped the deserter would at least make it out of the city. “That didn’t take long,” I say. “We should go.”
I make for the main tunnel. Helene follows, as I knew she would. She would stab herself in the eye before she disobeyed a direct order. Helene is a true Martial, more loyal to the Empire than to her own mother. Like any good Mask-in-training, she takes Blackcliff’s motto to heart: Duty first, unto death.
I wonder what she would say if she knew what I’d really been doing in the tunnels.
I wonder how she’d feel about my hatred for the Empire.
I wonder what she would do if she found out her best friend is planning to desert.
What People are Saying About This
Early Praise for An Ember in the Ashes:
"I was so engrossed with this book that I missed a connecting flight. If that doesn't convince you to read An Ember in the Ashes, I don't know what will. An explosive, heartbreaking, epic debut that will keep you glued to the pages. I hope the world's ready for Sabaa Tahir." –Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend
“An Ember in the Ashes is a spectacular page turner that asks readers to consider how far they’d go to save the ones they love. Sabaa Tahir is the next superstar in young adult fiction and her debut is as cinematic as Gladiator and as high-stakes as Game of Thrones.” –Holly Goldberg Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Counting by 7s
"A heart-pounding story of love and loss, with the most original world-building I've read all year. Deeply felt and deeply moving, I could not put it down." –Margaret Stohl, New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Creatures
"This electric debut is a pulse-pounding action-packed Romeo and Juliet story in a richly imagined world with a great twist and heroic characters you'll root for and won't stop thinking about." –Melissa de la Cruz, New York Times bestselling author of Frozen and The Ring and the Crown
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book caught my attention yesterday when I was browsing new releases in teen fiction. The editorial reviews raved about the book, so I read a few paragraphs... seemed decent. So I decided to buy. Then last night I sat down to read for an hour or so... instead, I read all through the night. When dawn came, I hadn't quite finished the book. But when the story didn't go the way it was supposed to go, I finally set it down to grab a few hours of sleep. Upon arising, my one and only goal was to finish reading the story. But when I got to the end, I found myself completely dismayed — I hadn't realized the end was so near, and I wanted to the story to continue. The book does end at a logical place. And if this ends up being a standalone book, I'll still remember it as one of the best books I've read. But hopefully, this will be first in a long series to come. Do yourself a favor — ignore the hype, but read the book. You'll be glad you did.
An Ember in the Ashes 5 stars I received an e-ARC copy of Ember in the Ashes from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was a thrill ride. I do so love it when a book lives up to its potential. Laia has lost her whole world. Her brother is arrested, her grandparents are murdered and her home razed to the ground. Desperate to free her brother she goes to the resistance, bargaining to spy for them if they will help her. Elias is a mask, the deadly highly trained assassins of the empire and he is the best of his class. After graduation he plans to leave is all behind, find the freedom he craves away from killing. But the empire is changing, the trials for a new emperor have been announced and Elias is a candidate. Laia is now a slave tasked with spying on the trails. Their paths will intercept, entwine and carry the fate of the empire. I LOVED this book. The world building is intriguing, there is no info dump but I never felt lost. I love how there are different cultures and each is different but I never felt that it was hammered at me at any point. There were so many layers, it was terrific. Elias was my favorite character. He wanted out of being a mask but was conflicted about it. He thinks the empire needs to change but he’s not going to join the revolution. Elias is complicated and everything is wrapped in layers. It was fascinating and I really can’t wait to see where he ends up. I loved his complicated relationship with Helene. She’s his best friend and he could love her like she loves him but it would complicate everything. I love how he knows that but because he cares about her, he wants her to be happy. I had a slight quibble with all of Elias’s friends because I could never tell them apart but that kinda was a moot point. Laia was okay in the beginning. She is naive and even though life is hard, she has been pretty sheltered. But it all gets ripped away and Laia spends most of the book trying to get that shelter back. It takes her a while to realize even if she can save her brother things aren’t going back to the way they were before. However when she does realize that she embraces it, which made me happy. I did want her to stop trusting everyone. She is so lucky it didn’t get her killed. But my favorite thing about Laia was that she wasn’t the strong kick butt heroine, she was a scared girl doing everything in her power to save the only piece of her family left and she is willing to do whatever it takes afraid or not. I liked all the other characters. Helene was my favorite, I can’t wait to see her again. I’m super curious to see how Darin’s time in prison has changed him (If he can manage not to die). The swordsmith was awesome, I want to see him again. There is a bit of a love triangle (two of them really), but they didn’t bug me much because the other things that are going on are so much more important. As long as the triangles take a backseat to the plot and the war everything will be fine. (an no dithering, I hate dithering). So loved, loved, loved,loved. Great writing, tight plot. I need there to be a next book. Possible spoilers.. So predictions for the next book (which there absolutely has to be). The Augers are actually the coven the trapped the Jinn. Which is why the Nightbringer can cloak from them. Cook is going to be super important. We will get to see more of the Tribes (weee). The resistance spy will be revealed (Mazen I’m looking at you).
An Ember in the Ashes left me in awe. Sabaa Tahir has crafted a beautiful, intricate world that is both astounding and resonating. The text itself is fluid, easy to read and extremely engaging. Tahir allows you to experience the world she has created through the lens of two characters, Laia and Elias, who are profound and beautifully developed throughout the course of the novel. Absolutely wonderful. I'm almost upset I read it this early knowing I will have to wait for a sequel.
I didn't know what to expect from this novel, but decided to give it a try after seeing the good reviews. I was not disappointed! An amazingly well written novel that constantly keeps the reader guessing and turning the pages. The way the author develops all the characters so you can truly have emotions while you read is nothing short of mastery. Bottom line. Read. It. Now.
Enjoyed the book, 5 stars! So intricately woven, right up until the last 12 pages, when I realized that the end was being rushed and few of questions would be answered. Comparing her to J.K. Rowling is an optimistic stretch, as the Harry Potter stories could each stand alone. Disappointed in a hardcover for the first time in awhile.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir Publisher: Razorbill Publication Date: April 28, 2015 Rating: 4 stars Source: ARC sent by the publisher Summary (from Goodreads): I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE. THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME. IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW AND I WILL DESTROY YOU. 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. What I Liked: This book has a lot of hype surrounding it, and usually, hype turns me off. A lot of reviewers have read this book and LOVED it. There has been plenty of interest in this book for months. I featured it months ago, in December, as a "Waiting on Wednesday" pick, and it was pretty popular then. I was honestly terrified that I would be utterly disappointed by this book, because of the hype. Fantasy is my favorite genre, but the hype is a big turn-off for me. Thank goodness that wasn't the case with this book. Laia's brother Darin was taken by Masks of the Empire, and thrown into jail for allegedly working with the Resistance (which he wasn't). Laia finds the Resistance, convinces them to find a way to help Darin, but that means she'll have to work as a slave for the Commandant of the Blackcliff military academy. Elias is a student there, the finest of the rest. And he wants to desert, just after graduation. But the Trials are this year, and he, his best friend (and only female in the academy), and two of his archenemies are chosen to participate. Whoever wins becomes the new Emperor. Laia has to pretend to be an obedient slave girl while risking her life to get information to the Resistance. Elias has to pretend to want to win the Trials, while trying to stay alive at all. Both will need each other more than they realize, if only to stay alive, but also to change the ways of the Empire. The world-building and setting of this book are the first things I want to comment on - woah. You have to read this book to really experience it, but the world-building is so intense. I honestly can't think of a better way to describe. Well-written, rich, powerful, intense. The entire book is intense, and you feel like you have to hold your breath the entire time, but in the best of ways. Tahir masterfully created the world of this book. I've never read anything quite like it - there were some qualities similar to Pierce Brown's debut series, with the brutality. This book has plenty of adult crossover appeal. I've seen the Rome-like comparison made when referring to the world - that is a very accurate comparison! Even the names are Roman-ish. The story is so intense. I'm going to keep using that world. I've never read anything that FELT quite like this book did. Rather, I've never felt as tightly wound as I did while reading this book. It was almost difficult to read, because I kept holding my breath, waiting for the Commandant to chop off some of Laia's fingers, or disfigure her face, or for Elias to get caught in his original plans to desert, or him getting caught by just being himself - not cruel and heartless enough. I really liked Elias. He hates the academy, and what he has become. He hates watching one Yearlings die for stupid reasons, for trying to desert. He wants to be free, to live his life, and not to be a pawn and a weapon to anyone. Elias is very smart, very strong, very talented. He pretends well, but many can sense that he does not want his place at Blackcliff. Nevertheless, he is a fierce warrior. We get to see Elias's first person point-of-view every other chapter, between Laia's. I liked Laia a lot. She isn't a warrior, a hardened soldier, a seasoned spy. She's a girl whose brother was taken from her - her only family. She's desperate and selfless enough to subject herself to the mercy of the Commandant, and she pays for it over and over. Laia is smart, and learns quickly. She is full of life and feeling, and isn't broken at Blackcliff. We get to see her first person point-of-view, alternating with Elias's. Both character undergo immense character development. Both characters have to come to terms with terrible actions, with the past, present, and future. Elias faces awful tasks for the Trials, sometimes being for to kill his comrades. Laia lives in fear of being tortured by the Commandant, and of her brother being executed. She dare not make friends at Blackcliff, lest the Commandant use them against her. Laia makes incredibly difficult decisions throughout the story, and becomes more sure of those decisions by the end of the book. The same goes for Elias. The romance is weird. There is romance, but I can see the makings of a love triangle. Yup, don't be fooled by the alternating points-of-view. That doesn't automatically mean there's your pair. I don't like the idea of a love triangle in this amazing book, but the thing is, the book was SO GOOD, and the romance was so secondary... it's hard to hone in on only the potential love triangle. Also, notice how I'm saying "potential". I don't know. But it still bothered me (see below). In any case, I'll be shipping Elias and Laia from now until kingdom come. They didn't fall in love and have a deep relationship and blah blah blah cliches, but they definitely have an attraction, and care for each other, and I'd like to see this relationship grow. The story is awesome and terrible and powerful all at once. I say "terrible" as in how-dare-you-play-with-my-emotions-Sabaa-ahhhhhhh-omg. This is one of those books that constantly has the potential to break your first, from the beginning. One of the protagonists dies? One of the protagonists is imprisoned? One of the protagonists is in trouble? Sure, these are all possibilities. Which makes this book so intense. Again, intense. And amazing! The ending is... fair, ish. There isn't a cliffhanger, and I suppose you could end this book in such a manner, and have no sequels... but this book would be even better if readers knew that at least one sequel would follow. We don't know this. So, the ending is good, but I would like it more if I knew there was more to come. If this book ends like that and there is nothing to follow, well, then this ending isn't the best (in my opinion). How can so much about the Empire be left to readers' imaginations? No no no. The author resolved nothing, in terms of the Empire and the Resistance. And the romance - I'd prefer it more solid. There has to be at least one more book. What I Did Not Like: Like I said above, there are the makings of a potential love triangle. Which pisses me off. Why ruin a perfectly amazing fantasy novel - totally creative and original - with a love triangle? Of course, not everyone sees a love triangle as "ruining" a book, but that's my personal opinion. I don't particularly like this love triangle either. Notice how I don't mention a third character. I don't care for him. It's not that I don't like him... well, I don't like him as a love interest. So. Cliche. Also, in general, the whole training and academy and bloodthirsty leader of the academy thing is getting a bit worn out. A lot of fantasy novels are featuring some sort of game or contest in which contestants are seriously tested, and have to do terrible, impossible tasks that are meant to break them. And then at the end of the book, the game is in an uproar because of the resistance. I'm not even spoiling anything. This is a common plot skeleton I've been noticing over the past year, in YA fantasy novels. Grrr. It's a great plot arc, but it's getting to be a bit overused, in my opinion. So while I found the world-building and setting utterly original and intense, there still were plenty of cliches in this book. Let's not forget that pesky old love triangle. Would I Recommend It: YES. I don't care what faults I found in this book. It's so so so good and I totally recommend it to fantasy and non-fantasy fans alike. You'll want to read it in one sitting, like I did (there's no way you'll be able to rip yourself away, anyway). It will hit you hard and make you want more! Rating: 4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars, because of the potential love triangle, cliches, and the open-ish ending. I wish we could know now if there will be another book! It matters to my rating! Also, there needs to be a second book in general, rating or not. I need my questions answered!
Like most books i chose to read, this one was exellent :)
Couldn't put it down. Amazing story. Loved every minute of it.
I hope for the second book Elias and Helen to be together I feel like he can her show how its is to be free and that life can't always be about being fierce. As for the girl I suspect she is going to kill Elias mother and Keenan and her with the resistance might take over or destroy the empire with possibly Darwins weapons that he drew that is my prediction for the second book. I hope it comes true:D
What I was told from fellow reader's before reading An Ember in the Ashes (AEITA): ANCIENT ROME BEST BOOK EVER EPIC!!!!!!!!!!!! FAVORITE BOOK OF 2015 If you're like me, then these are a few of the thing you heard about AEITA when it first came out. And when I hear things like that, I get nervous. THE HYPE -- real or not real (Peetaaaaa)? And ultimately, I have to say for this book, THE HYPE IS REAL, my friends. The hype is indeed real. I found Ember to be original, fast-pasted, thought provoking, intentional and most importantly, a fantastic read. The story is a dual-perspective epic fantasy tale about a young Scholar girl, Laia, and a premier soldier, Elias. We follow each of them as their stories unfold. I've been sitting here trying to find a way to put my thoughts and feels about Ember in words and I'm having a difficult time. I know how I feel: excited, pumped up, very impressed... but I don't know how to explain the world or the development of the story quite yet. The only thing I can say with 100% confidence is that YOU NEED TO READ IT. Not because it's hyped or because I loved it, but because this book embodies what I think young adult fantasy should: honesty, transparency and intelligent writing. Sabaa has managed to write a book that anyone from any age bracket would appreciate while still appealing to the audience the book is intended for: young adults. Being an young-ish (26 is still young, right??) adult, I still enjoy and predominately read young adult. I find that often times, however, I struggle with the simplicity and straight-forwardness of the writing. I do not think books need to be over-simplified or "dumbed-down" for teenagers. I vehemently disagree, in fact. So I was incredibly pleased and satisfied to discover that Sabaa did not do this for her readers. The writing, was in fact, one of the aspects of the book I was most pleased with -- I found it alluring and beautiful and I cannot wait to read more. The world of Ember, while I haven't quite grasped it fully, is incredibly unique and intoxicating to read about. I loved imagining the streets and building to be like ancient Rome - it really set the mood. I pictured the Masks and Elias, to have a gladiator-type feel and the masks themselves, I pictured to be almost liquid silver in appearance. The german cover of Ember has Elias's face with a rendition of the mask (so check that out on Goodreads). And while I didn't picture it quite like that, I think you can get the gist of it from this cover (which is also amazing, by the way). My only real critique of the book, the .25 star (I know, really reaching) I docked was due to the world-building and description of the history. I had a very clear picture of where we were in history and what was going on in current events in the world of Ember, but I was a bit fuzzy on details surrounding the Augur's and other fantastical elements on the world. I just wanted a bit more understanding, though I don't think it took away from the book overall. But my biggest praise is that I felt the world of Ember was REAL, dark and gritty. In an environment where soldier's are the ruling class and scholars are enslaved and the lower class, the book could have easily been gratuitous in violence or overly-censored. But I felt that Ember was the perfect amount of all aforementioned elements. The brutality was frightening but not too much and as a reader, I appreciated that the author gave us an honest portrayal of what a world like this would be like, our main characters being no exception to that brutality. And moving on over into the romance department, I thought the author gave us just enough to have us swooning but not enough for us to be completely satisfied. I liked the restraint and while I would have loved to see things progress further between certain characters, I'm glad they didn't because the circumstances would have made it not quite right. But the love pentagon??? I think, was a bit much. I don't think both main characters needed to be a love triangle. That being said, however, I'm completely invested in each person in said pentagon and I hope we see more of all of them moving forward. The best type of books are the ones that keep you thinking long after you finish the final page and I can safely say that An Ember in the Ashes is one such book. I am thrilled there is going to be a sequel (I've heard rumors there could be an many as FOUR books, whatttt) and I look forward to reading whatever Sabaa publishes in the future!
4.5 Stars In a horrifyingly brutal world, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES brings a wonderfully thrilling, epically taunting, spectacularly brilliant, bombshell of book!! AN EMBER IN THE ASHES took me on a nonstop ride through a cruel reality of choices, sacrifices, and the true value of the power of love... A fast-paced plot with twist and turns to keep you on your toes guessing which way it'll turn, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES was just about everything I hoped for. I LOVED this book so sooooo hard!! It was dark, and dangerous, and thrilling, and so much fun to read!! It had this rough edge and paranormal aspects that I did not except from reading the synopsis, but added a more complex plot that only grew thicker with each chapter. The characters—all of them were interesting in their own special way, even the side ones. I think Sabaa Tahir did an amazing job with the character development, and the depth of their personalty. The main characters Laia and Elias were great heroines, and I loved how they found themselves at the same Academy for their own reasons and each had their own goals in what they needed to achieve, but how their stories intertwined and weaved themselves into each others, and by the end of the book they were the sole means of each others survival. Truly brilliant, I looooved that so much!! THE PLOT ~ LAIA ~ Laia is a Scholar trying to blend in and stay off the Empire's radar, but when her brother is arrested for treason and the rest of her family is murdered before her eyes, Laia is determined to find away to free the only remaining family she has left before he meets the same fate as her murdered family. But in a world so cruelly twisted, their is but little hope for anything if you're a Scholar. But that won't stop Laia from giving it all she has to free her brother from the clutches of the Martial's who have brought so many of their people to their deaths. Laia will have to join forces with the rebellion if she has any chance of freeing her brother from his cruel fate. But what the leader is asking in exchange for helping her is no easy task, and in order to overcome all the obstacles set out in front of her she will have to fight with everything she has to save brother. With little options, Laia reluctantly agrees to go undercover in the most deadliest place of all—the heart of the Empire, and spy on the most dangerous women in their world. The Commandant, who has brought more Scholar's to their death then anyone in her class. She is dangerous, deadly, and out for blood, and Laia has just walked into the Lions den... ~ ELIAS ~ Being the finest solider at Blackcliff Military Academy hasn't done Elias any favors. He yearns to be free of the chains that bind him, to finally be rid of the brutality he's forced to inflict day in and day out, and is secretly planning his escape. But before Elias can make his move, something far more dangerous then anything at the Academy approaches him with a proposition, one that could finally be his ticket to freedom of the wretch world he was forced into. But it won't be easy to complete, and the trials he'll have to endure will prove to be far more deadlier then anything he could of anticipated. And before it's all said an done, Elias may have to choose between his heart and his loyalties—the same loyalties that are his ticket to freedom... But how can Elias really be free when the things he has to endure and inflict will never really set him free inside, but really the opposite... When these two worlds collide they will intertwine in more ways then one, and will become each others crutch for survival. Who would think a Mask and a Scholar could be anything more then slave and master? But when sparks fly, and loyalties become twisted, Laia and Elias will have to trust each other to the fullest if their going to accomplish their goals, and may even find they've lost their hearts somewhere along the line... AN EMBER IN THE ASHES was full of twist and turns, action and adventure, lies and betrayals, love and romance, power and blood, sacrifice and ultimate choices that could change the fate of the Empire. It was a thrilling book that I absolutely loved. Though it was not as mind blowing as I hoped, but it was still pretty dam close, which is why I gave it the rating I did, but that didn't take much away from my opinion of this book. The ending was torture, absolute TORTURE!!! I have this love/hate relationship with the ending. And while it was thrilling and satisfying, it was too much of a cliffhanger to keep me hanging on the edge of the seat for another whole year until book two is released. But nevertheless, that ending was still epically awesome and amazingly thrilling, and I can't WAIT until I get back into this world again!!! Overall, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES was just about as good as I hoped, minus a few minor flaws, but nothing to serious to deter me from my overall love for this book. I loved the world setting, the characters, the surprising paranormal aspects, the trials, the hardships they had to endure, the slow burning romance, and just the overall feel of this book!! AN EMBER IN THE ASHES satisfies in more ways then one. I will be impatiently waiting until book two releases sometime in 2016 (I hope), and will be sure to read it as soon as it lands in my happy little hands. If you enjoy a dystopia setting, intertwined with a rich fantasy twist, tied into paranormal aspects, with twist and turns, and a fast-paced plot, then AN EMBER IN THE ASHES should definitely be your next read!!! NOTE: I received a physical ARC from Razorbill (Penguin) for reviewing purposes! All opinions express are my own and are not influenced in any way!
OMG this book is frickin good. Wow. I LOVED it. I’d heard a lot of good things, so I was excited about reading it, and I am SO GLAD I finally did. Laia is the daughter of the leaders of the Resistance, put in a difficult position, fighting her personal demons even as she tries to save her brother from death in prison. Elias is training to be one of the elite enforcers of the militaristic people who dominated Laia’s people long ago. Except, he doesn’t want any part of it. Laia and Elias are SO compelling. They are fascinating and deep and have so many issues and so much messed up stuff to deal with. There’s a really interesting love square which gives you a lot of potential for different shippers. I won’t tell you who I ship directly, in case it’s a spoiler, but I’m in the most obvious camp. The plot is compelling and there are so many challenges for our protagonists to face. There’s suspense and beautifully fantastic elements woven in. The world’s history is released at just the right pace, so that you see threads that will weave through the rest of the story right when you want to see more of the world. I bet I know what book three is going to be about. At least, I hope it’s going to be about that. Though, I’m not going to lie, if Tahir wanted to stretch this into six, seven, even ten books…I would definitely keep reading. I love Laia and Elias. I love the secondary characters, too. There are all these questions I want answered, that I feel confident Tahir will provide later on in the story. The Commandant’s tattoo. What’s going to happen to Hellene. Who is Cook? (I think I know who she is, but the mystery is being drawn out enough that it makes me question it, and the whole thing is deliciously suspenseful). I immediately picked up book two upon finishing this one. The prose is beautiful, the settings and world are well crafted, the characters couldn’t possibly be more compelling. Truly beautiful work.
First off, part of the beauty of a book cmes with reading them and having to wait a little. It shows that you actually care about the book. Second: usually the reason authors publish their books long periods after the last one is because (duh) THEY HAVE TO TAKE TIME TO WRITE THE DAMN THING!! Take time to think about reasons that dont always revolve around you.
In a world that is lead by the Martial Empire, defiance is met by death. Unlikely situations collide the worlds of Laia who is slave doing whatever she can to save her brother who has been arrested for treason. And Elias, a solider who wants nothing more than to break away from the empire. When these worlds collide, Laia and Elias soon realize that even though their missions are completely different, their fates are intertwined; and that they need each other to survive the harsh world they live in. This was the first fantasy YA book I have read since Harry Potter. And let me tell you!!!! I am in love!! I cannot wait to crack open the second installment and find out what happens next. The world building, the characters, and the detail in this novel was completely breathtaking. I was addicted and drawn into this story line as soon as I flipped to the second page. One sure tell sign that I am really into a book, is when I talk to it. And I found myself talking to the book throughout the entire story! There were characters that I absolutely loved: Laia, Elias, Helene (although she made me mad a few times). And then there were characters that I hated, well there was only one main character that I hated and that was The Commandment. I wanted to fight her the entire time. I am late to the party on this series, but if you have not started it, START IT!!!!!! And I ship Laia and Elias, I hope they fall in love, get married, and have a bunch of babies.
An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir, opens as Laia witnesses the killings of her grandparents and the capture of her brother Darin as soldiers attack their home, accusing Darin of being a part of the Resistance. Laia’s story alternates with Elias, a soldier training most of his life to serve the Empire. Laia finds the Resistance to try and save Darin while Elias debates desertion or staying and serving the Empire. Laia is bought as the Commandant’s new slave girl, a Resistance idea to find out information about Darin so they can plan how to help him. Laia discovers life as a slave is horrible and she’s having a very difficult time getting information for the Resistance. Four Masks are sent into nightmarish trials, Elias and Helene are two of the soldiers, and they must overcome their worst fears to survive as their love, loyalty and hearts are strained through horrific events. Throughout the story, Elias and Laia unexpectedly run into each other and they unwillingly get to know each other. Each chapter ends with intensity, so it’s a difficult book to put down. Dynamic, complex characters to love and hate make this story suspenseful, exciting and interesting, 5 stars!
This is the first book in a series, so usually the plot builds slowly to allow the author to build his/her book universe. Book-verse? Is that a word? Oh well, I’m going with it. While normally it takes an author time to build their book-verse, An Ember in the Ashes is an exception. We, the readers, are literally thrown into the action as if dropped into the middle of an ongoing story. From that point, you and the characters are pulled along with the current of events that have already been fated. The setting is extremely rich in detail without getting bogged down by it. The story appears straight forward, young people surviving and discovering themselves; but, not all things are as they seem. Riveting, surprising, and gut-wrenching are understatements. http://amysbooketlist.blogspot.com/2018/08/an-ember-in-ashes-audiobook-review.html
Overall I enjoyed the story and will continue to read the series. My criticism are mostly during some of the fight scenes where Helene was continually being rescued by Ellias. She's supposed to be the best fighter in the entire class, next to him, yet he rescues her several times. I found it annoying and very cliche. She's a badass, let her win her own battles, it seemed like lazy writing. Again, still really enjoyed the story.. just those small issues.
This book was PHENOMENAL! An Ember in the Ashes has been passed around and mentioned on Booktube so much since it came out but more so with the third book in the quartet having been just released. I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon and see what the hype was all about. I was not disappointed. The world building in this series is outstanding, I felt like I was part of the world, part of these people's lives. The writing style made the story jump off the page and come to life. Sabaa Tahir did such an amazing job writing this book and executing the idea that I completely understand and encourage the time it takes to produce such an amazing tale. I have both the 2nd and 3rd books; however, I haven't read them yet because I don't want to torture myself with the wait, so I am savoring each of these books. Tahir's characters are extremely easy to relate to in one way or another. These characters are the trifecta of fantasy characters. Tahir's female characters are badass and while her male characters are strong and chivalrous. Laia is a young woman who is thrown into slavery at a military school to obtain information for the resistance who will in turn help rescue her brother from prison. Elias is one of the top students at the military school and the way his path crosses with Laia's is simply perfect. Helene is a student soldier at the school and Elias' best friend. She lives her life by the book and isn't very flexible with her beliefs and feelings. I don't want to give any of the story away because this is truly a book you need to experience yourself. Go and read this book. The hype is everything it is and more.
Couldn't put it down!
Very good read
Very good book liked it a lot
Fast paced from first page
It's been a while since I read a YA Fantasy that captured my heart so quickly and completely! I am glad that I had the chance to read this one (and jump immediately into the second book). My only problem? Now I have to wait for the third book... Clearly, I didn't plan this well. I adore the Elias and Laia and Helene, too. Really, I am in awe of Tahir's ability to create complex characters who are clearly dynamic - changing on a regular basis from page to page, but in a way that is so human and so real that it really defies logic! How can the reader fall so hard for Elias when he's done so much bad in his life? Because what's he's done isn't *who* he is, of course. And to create a character with so much depth is an amazing feat. But it's not just Elias. Tahir's done this with all of her characters. Add in an incredibly detailed setting with breathtaking world-building that just knocks it out of the park and you have An Ember in the Ashes. Kudos to Sabaa Tahir! Eagerly awaiting book 3.