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An Ember in the Ashes #1

An Ember in the Ashes

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This is a previously-published edition of ISBN 9781595148032.

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.

446 pages, Hardcover

First published April 28, 2015

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About the author

Sabaa Tahir

28 books31.7k followers
**My apologies if I don't respond to emails or friend requests right away! Come find me on Twitter or Instagram @sabaatahir, or on my web site: www.sabaatahir.com

Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-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.

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
May 22, 2015
“This life is not always what we think it will be,” Cain says. “You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

I think a lot of people will understand me when I say that the best kind of books are those that provoke strong emotions in you. My favourites are made up of books that filled me with happy excitement or, alternatively, books that ripped my heart out and made me cry. An Ember in the Ashes, however, made me angry. No, not angry - furious. I raged. I panicked. I hated. And damn, it was amazing.

You know those rare books that just make your heart pound? Those that take you so far out of the real world that you have to remind yourself afterwards that it's all fiction, or else you won't be sleeping? For me, this was one of those books. Everything about it was gripping, from the godawful but mesmerizing setting to those two bloody love triangles (love square?).

Yes, that's right. I don't even care that there were love triangles. That seems like too simplistic a term for this complex web of relationships, anyway. It isn't about choosing between hot dude #1 and hot dude #2, there's far bigger things at stake here and every character is so well-developed that you genuinely wonder and care what their fate will be.

This fast-paced story is told from two perspectives. Laia is one of the Scholars - now ruled over by the Martial Empire - many of whom are poor, illiterate and even enslaved. When her brother is arrested and presumably tortured by the Masks (masked soldiers), she seeks out the Resistance for help. However, they will not help her for free and demand that in return she must enter Blackcliff Military Academy as a slave in order to spy on the Commandant. Elias - the son of the Commandant - makes up the other perspective in this book.

Initially, I drew some comparisons between this and Legend, but though I liked the latter, I still don't think it's anywhere near as compelling, interesting, fast-paced or evil as this book. And despite the similar premise, this book branches off in many very different and exciting directions, including the arrival of creatures believed to only exist in myth.

I mentioned my fury before and I'm going to elaborate a bit. This book is nasty. This world is nasty. The Commandant is an evil hellbitch and complete sociopath. There's torture, child abuse and the threat of rape (none of it is really graphic but it's effective just the same). But it works. The stakes are higher; it made me actually afraid for Laia when she was sneaking about and spying on the Commandant. It's hard to not grind your teeth at the unfairness and simultaneously feel powerless to stop it. It's been a while since I've read such an evocative novel.

So, I enjoyed pretty much everything about this book. I liked the varied cast of characters and that Laia wasn't a typical badass heroine but a scared girl going against her every instinct to save her brother. I loved the use of prophecies and the way Elias has to try and understand what they mean in order to do the right thing. I loved the Augurs - a bunch of hooded holy men who claim to deliver prophecies. Such a great read and I can see people eating it up and being desperate for more.

The book is rounded off well and is supposed to be a standalone, but there's room for more here and I'd love to see the author revisit this story and these characters. ***

"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."

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*** May 22, 2015: A sequel is on the way!
Profile Image for Kiki.
193 reviews8,454 followers
January 7, 2020
So I started rereading this with a promise to write a "very, very scholarly review" similar to the ones I wrote for Twilight and Wicked Saints. But the thing is that, with those books, I genuinely had strong feelings; I was motivated to sit down and bang out a review that sizzled, paired with graphics and artwork and intertextual and historical analysis. Those reviews were written out of an actual desire to do them, not because I had nothing better to do.

The thing is this. This is the thing: I really don't care about this book anymore. The first time I read it, I got testy about it because, at that time in my life, when I was depressed and struggling to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning - or really at any time of day - getting fired up about books was a lifeline for me. It was feeling, and it was creative engagement when my own artistic well, which is so vitally important to me, was empty.

These days, things are kind of okay. Like, life's not exactly great, but it's fine. People who haven't known me for that long probably don't care about any of this shit, but I do feel the need to provide some context as to why I reviewed this book in a fit of rage, then deleted the review and replaced it with another rant, then promised a review that's never going to materialise. It's because, at this point in my life, I really don't feel the need to use books and misdirected internet anger just to feel something.

The verdict on this book is that I don't like it, and I never will. It's a series that I don't have ay desire to continue. My feelings did change, though, on this reread: I liked Laia as an everygirl heroine bravely struggling to survive in a hostile environment, and I saw potential in this story that I couldn't fathom before. It's yet another story that I think could have greatly benefitted from being reworked as an adult novel, but at the same time, I get why people like it for what it is. The world building is kind of thin and doesn't make a modicum sense as an allegory for Ancient Rome (seriously; this is not even remotely reflective of Rome, and it's weird to see it being touted as "Romanesque" when it's got nothing to do with it) but would I call it bad? Probably not. It is what it is. Given the clean, deft, emotive writing and the aforementioned potential, I'd definitely give Sabaa Tahir's work another try when she moves on to something else.

That's it. That's genuinely all I have. Cheers.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sasha Alsberg.
Author 8 books66.8k followers
October 30, 2015
An Ember in the Ashes is truly a unique and captivating book that I recommends everybody reads! Cannot wait for the second book in this series =D
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews168k followers
May 22, 2015
HOLY SMOKES THAT WAS GOOD. I'm sososo happy that there's going to be a sequel. I'D BE SO MAD IF THEY JUST LEFT ME HANING LIKE THAT. YOU CAN'T DO THAT. YAY FOR SEQUELS. *throws confetti*
Profile Image for The Burning Rose (Jess).
161 reviews348 followers
January 20, 2022
5/5 stars.
This is the 4th time I'm reading this book. And the third time I finish this book with my mouth open. The third time I was rocking through strong emotions - with the characters, about the characters. This is the third time that I am proud of the author and delighted that this book exists. Because I think every person should understand how to write a book in the most incredible way.

In this book you can experience all kinds of emotions. Fury, about the world where the characters live. Hate, for the bad and cruel people. Empathy, for Elias who cannot carry the burden of the Blackcliff. Sympathy, to Laia who lost her entire family to death by the empire. Sadness, about the way we lost loads of amazing characters throughout the book. Pride for Izzi, who took courage and finally began to break her cruel routine as a slave.

This book has a lot of cruel and brutal parts. I guess there are people who can't read it because the details can go far. But I think, as much as this book is brutal, it teaches us about humanity. And about inhumanity.
“I see humans, but not humanity”
This is a quote I really love, from the time I was a child. I understood that long ago. I had an uneasy childhood and a cruel life, and I realized that the world is full of human beings, but not all of them are human inside. When I told people about it, they tended to laugh at me and say I'm pessimistic, that people are generally good, that people are people. That every person who is bad, has some good in him too. but it‘s not correct. There are people who breathe the same air I breathe, live in the same world I live. But deep down inside, they lost their hearts and souls.

Something else I loved about the book - there is a lot of love in it. Love between good friends. Love between people of different classes. One-sided love. Physical attraction against love from within.
Still, this book did not shout "Look! I'm a YA book and I love to get lots of readers! " No.
First, this book shows that not every story and plot is supposed to be about love. The reader can be fascinated by the story even without it.
Secondly, I really like the fact that Elias only came across Laia in the middle of the book. First of all we got to know them, and once they found their way and met, we already knew who they are, we knew how similar they were.
Plus, to be honest, you can also see that, even in a cruel and almost inhuman place, you can hold on to love and see one light in the other.

This book taught us what friendship, loyalty, compassion, love, cruelty, strength, fear and more, are. It’s an amazing achievement.

It's time for me to read the second book.
Profile Image for Steph Sinclair.
461 reviews11.1k followers
October 4, 2015

My original review for this book consisted of the following statement:

Ugh. So boring.

And for some reason those three words have kinda pissed peeps off and landed me in some hot water elsewhere. But no matter. I feel like enough time has passed for me to give my true feelings.

So here they are:

This book is mediocre. There's nothing special about it. Nothing groundbreaking is contained in its pages. In other words, it's average. And that's what a 2 star rating for me is. I'm one of those reviewers who actually goes by the Goodreads ratings. 2 stars means I liked it, but it wasn't awesome. It also means I can see why others liked it. What it doesn't mean is that the book has no redeemable qualities or that your love for it is misplaced. I also want to point out that I really like Sabaa Tahir and have had the wonderful opportunity to meet her in person. She's truly lovely and I'm happy her novel has done so well. So take several seats if you've come here to troll me. Good day, sir.

So anyway, now that that's out of the way, back to An Ember in the Ashes.

Sometimes the problem with being a book blogger is that I know too much. Publishers love getting bloggers involved in campaigns to help promote their books because it's a fantastic way to generate hype and buzz for a title. Unfortunately for me, this sometimes means books are overhyped BEFORE I even get an ARC, let alone a finished copy. So the expectations I had for An Ember in the Ashes were ridiculously high and probably impossible to meet.

I think my primary issue with An Ember in the Ashes is that it bit off more than it could chew and, therefore, only began to scratch the surface. The halfway developed characters made for uninteresting, multi-POV narration. Even though I listened to the audio version, it only mildly helped the situation. And usually when I run into characters who aren't fleshed out completely, there's the plot to compensate, but not even that worked for me because everything moved at a snail's pace with no clear indication which direction the finish line lay.

Laia's role as a rebel was probably my least favorite aspect of the novel. Not only was she absolutely dreadful at it, but the rebels seemed shocked to find Laia hurt on a number of occasions. Things like this was worthy of an eyebrow raise because Laia was attempting to spy on the most dangerous person in the story, The Commandant, knowing that their previous spies were tortured and killed. So why are Laia's bruises a surprise?

Elias' POV was no better, to be honest. He spent most of his time mulling over his constant mommy issues and romantic feelings for his best friend. So basically, it was a lot of wangst that I could have done without. Also, he pulls a bit of a dick move that momentarily made me saw red. Not to mention Elias' character arc seems to revolve around a Prophecy and I'm just kinda over that in YA right now.

Still, since this is a 2-star review, there are some things that I did like.

- The commandant was a fantastic character. Deliciously evil and sadistic in all the right ways. She seemed to remain the most consistent and interesting throughout the book and I found myself enjoying scenes that she cameoed in.

- Elias' best friend, Helena. Even though I didn't exactly care for the romance, I enjoy the tension it created and that it caused his best friend to have more page time. She was such a badass and I loved her. Also, I started seeing some forms of a love rhombus and oh god please don't.

- The battle near the end was a surprise I did not expect. Tahir ended up killing off a few side characters I didn't realize I actually cared about. The audio narration was especially wonderful during that part.

All in all, it's not terrible, but also not knock-your-socks-off-amazing either. I don't feel invested enough to read the sequel since I found this one to be such a chore to get through in the first place. However, if I start seeing whispers of a Laia and Helena ship starting to form in book two, I might just need to rethink everything I thought I knew.
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
June 19, 2018
sometimes you read a book and you know instantly - this is going to be huge. whether it's the quality of the writing, the freshness of the premise, the way it piggybacks onto something already immensely popular, or just a case of right time/right zeitgeist - you just know.

and this book is going to be a star.

and it should be. this book is a perfect example of crossover YA. there is nothing juvenile about it, and it will have broad appeal to adults as well as teens. it has fantastic world-building, complex characters, gripping action, it's frequently surprising, and it doesn't shy from the horrific. this book is full of hard choices and actions that can't be taken back. it is neither gentle nor pandering. from me, that is high praise - i get very fed up when books and movies resort to that lazy emotional/psychological manipulation where characters are on the brink of death but oh look! a savior! or - worse - "ta-daaaa - we can bring people back from the dead!"

that is not to say there aren't close calls here, because there are. plenty of them. but there is always a cost to the reprieve, whether it be in corpses or sacrifices or heavy emotional baggage. the price of living is steep.

this book is doing a lot of work - it's a fantasy novel, but it's also addressing very important themes of oppression, literacy as power, the dangers of history repeating itself, compassion, the distinction between loyalty and thinking for yourself, the double sidedness of power, and that "right" and "wrong" are subjective and can be a matter of perspective. it's huge, and it opens up a lot of moral dilemmas for discussion.

but to backtrack before i get all bogged down in vague atmosphere, dancing around specifics - this is an incredibly strong debut historical fantasy novel. it's modeled on ancient rome, with many of the unsavory elements that entails in terms of slavery and casual rape. the rape is oft-referenced, threatened, and accepted as "how we do," but there's no specific scenes on-page, which is important to note. it's always there in the background, and tahir manages to make its potential threatening enough without resorting to any gratuitous scenes of sexual assault. however, there's a ton of nonsexual bloody violence, and it's gory, powerful stuff.

the story is told from two sides - laia is seventeen years old, and comes from the scholars - a formerly flourishing people now ruled by the martial empire, stripped of their power and culture, living in poverty and illiteracy. laia's family has been destroyed by the martials, specifically the masks, which are like the enforcers of the martial empire - shiny metal-masked soldiers who keep her people down through raids and brutal fear tactics. when her brother darin is arrested for treason, laia approaches the scholars' secret underground movement known as the resistance to beg for help, capitalizing on her family's past connection to the group to convince them. they agree to help, on the condition that she do her part, going undercover as a slave to the commandant of the blackcliff military academy, where the martials are trained to fight. it is an incredibly dangerous mission, and laia is such a fearful and naive girl, it seems doomed to fail, but laia is determined to rescue her brother, so into the belly of the beast she goes.

the second perspective is elias, whose mother is the brutal and feared commandant herself. elias has been trained in the elite special forces division of the martials - the masks. but he didn't gain this position through nepotism - his mother despises him and abandoned him as a baby, and he spent the first six years of his life among the tribesmen who raised him before he was restored to the martials. he is now twenty, and on the verge of graduating from the masks, but he is disgusted with the brutishness of life among the martials, and is planning to desert on the eve of graduation, leaving everything behind, including his best friend helena.

unfortunately, fate intervenes and elias is visited by one of the augurs, a group of men and women who are these hooded, red-eyed mystics; the keepers of prophecies, operating at a completely different level behind the scenes, manipulating the present and the future while still maintaining a remove from the fray. in my mind they are a combination of



and



and elias is made an offer he cannot refuse. he, along with helena and the twins zak and marcus, has been chosen as an aspirant - to battle for the position of emperor. his first impulse is to refuse and stick with his desertion-plan, but the augur shows him a vision of his future that convinces him he needs to fulfill his destiny if he ever wants to be free from the martials.

the aspirants are put to a series of trials because what would a YA dystopia be without intricate battles and tests?? (or titles like "aspirants" for that matter) and they are grueling. and awesome, oh, and did i mention that it's a battle to the death, and only two of them are meant to live through it - one as emperor, and one as second-in-command "blood shrike?" yeah, it's like that.

so, while laia is enduring the cruelty of the commandant and tentatively spying and reporting back to the resistance, elias is fighting for his life in a series of escalating trials and distracted by the strange new feelings complicating his relationship with helena.

a lot happens. and it's completely engrossing.

my enthusiasm for reading this book could overshadow my more critical faculties and i could say "this book is perfect!" because it was such a breath of fresh air and a true page turner filled with truly excellent characters and unprecedentedly badass situations, but for all the impressive parts, there were some things that clashed.

the commandant is just pure evil. like EEEEEEVVVIIILLLL evil evil evil. and that kind of unalloyed sadism can work in some books, but considering this one's proficiency with character-nuance, it isn't satisfying here. marcus is also pretty bad - but he's young and he wants what he wants - he is still coming up in the world and trying to prove himself. and as bad as he is, even he is given a moment or two of humanity. the commandant is someone who has all the power she needs but still takes pleasure in mutilating the truly helpless. and that kind of flat-black character is just not interesting to read about. i love that she's a woman and i love that she's tiny because that's less common in these military-YA-dystopias, but it just reads like overcompensation with the "look how baaaad i am!" there are no surprises in her character. she is just obstacle.

my other complaint is trickier and involves the romance bits. i am never much interested in the romantic elements of these YA books, and it's what always reminds me "this is for teenagers!" i hate love triangles as a rule, but this book almost made me understand their appeal. there are TWO love triangles here, and while they are definitely the least interesting aspect of the book for me, i think they are handled in a more reasonable and interesting way than is typical. usually, there will be a protagonist torn between two equally attractive love interests but one is good and noble and one is baaaad but misunderstood. or they are both utter perfection and selfless and oh what a lucky girl! (because it is usually a girl) with this book, the notions of choice and destiny come into play in various ways throughout the story, with an emphasis on the impact of choice upon one's character. and as an extension of that idea, the love triangles here are less about "which boy/girl is cuter?" and more about the actual personalities of the participants and how they complement or complete or mirror each other, and what path choosing one over the other would lead to. and it's about making these assessments, of choosing and prioritizing what matters: a past of shared experiences or an understanding of loss, of strength or idealism or loyalty or a strength to attach to a weakness.

and i think with a teen audience, when you're just starting to figure out what matters to you and who you want to be and there's still a fluidity to your personality and your future, you are in this place where all the possibilities are attractive and that makes the love triangle plausible. so thank you, this book, for making the love triangle(s) make sense.

which might not seem like a complaint, but it is in the sense that while i was reading this, i did a lot of eye-rolling and "oh, good, they are almost going to kiss again!" so it was still a part of the book that dragged down the sophistication level for me, but it made more sense, contextually, than in most books.

my last complaint is a big one, and it really depends upon whether this is a standalone book or the first in a series.

when i closed this book i thought to myself, "what a fine and stirring place to leave the reader before the action resumes in the next book."

and then i learned that the author said:

Right now, EMBER is a standalone. But I have my characters whole lives planned out, so I could write them forever.

and that's unacceptable. it's not that the story feels unfinished, but it feels like a tease. there's too much that was set up here that was left unresolved. for example, throughout the book, we are given flashes of supernatural elements, and there is an expectation that these will evolve into something crucial to the plot. and they're not, not really. they are involved without being resolved. if this is all we are going to get from this world, then their inclusion is nothing but a pretty prop over in the corner, contributing little. i assumed that this would be something built up more in subsequent books, but if this is it, then i thumbs-down it as being unnecessary and distracting.

and there are reunions i want to see and character arcs i require. i will not be satisfied with one story, so please - write them forever.

i feel like i have blabbed on and on without saying anything, but that seems to be where i'm at right now. all i know is that i loved this book, i'm in love with helena, and if i don't get more from this world, i will be extremely unhappy.

***********************************************************

so i guess this one is hers now, too.

 photo IMG_1440_zpse30aackw.jpg

i suppose i could go watch teevee...

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Katerina.
422 reviews16.8k followers
May 22, 2018
“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.”

One word.
E*X*P*L*O*S*I*V*E*

description

Dear Book Gods,
I beg you to forgive me for not reading this masterpiece sooner. I will graciously accept any punishment you deem appropriate. I would also like to thank you for bringing this book into my life. You guys rock!

Sincerely, Sabaa Tahir's new stalker fan



The story
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”

The Scholars are enslaved by the Martial Empire and they live under horrible conditions. Laia and her family try not to stick out, until her brother is arrested for treason and the only way to make the Resistance set him free is to become their spy within Blackcliff, the infamous military academy that breeds human weapons, the Masks, whose only purpose is death and destruction.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

Even though he is the most promising Blackcliff student, Elias plans his escape from this living hell. Until he is informed that the only way to become truly free is to participate in the Trials that will determine the next Emperor, Trials so harsh and brutal that their cost might be too great. His soul.

Thoughts
Have you ever wished that you could forget a book only to experience reading it for the first time once more? An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books. It is special. While I turned the pages, while I inhaled Sabaa Tahir's words, everything around me ceased to exist. Everything was frozen and the only thing I could hear was my heart. Thump, thump, thump. Sometimes it beat incredibly fast. Sometimes it stopped. Some others it was flooded with a warmth that spread through my veins into every inch of my body. It was beautiful and ugly, sweet and brutal, heartbreaking and heartmending.
“I look up at the stars hanging low in a sky that makes me think I'm seeing the infinite. But beneath their cold gaze, I feel small. All the beauty of the stars means nothing when life here on earth is so ugly.”

There was no reprieve from action and suspense in An Ember in the Ashes. War, battles, trials, espionage, rebels, slaves, ruthless villains, ancient creatures of immense powers, ghouls and wraiths, unbreakable swords, all of them woven together resulted in a story that kept you on the edge, that made you hold your breath and pray that your heroes will be spared the agony and the pain that was about to come. But it wouldn't happen. They suffered, and you suffered with them. They hurt and you hurt. They were broken and you tried in vain to glue them back together. There was raw brutality that made you cringe, and strength and dedication and courage and harsh decisions that gave you goosebumps. There was hope in despair, light in darkness ,life in death. And I loved every single moment.



The characters
“Look at us”, he says. “Scholar slave and Mask, each trying to persuade the other that they're not evil.”

Two enemies that were never meant to cross paths, let alone find a kindred spirit in each other, Elias and Laia were two rare characters. They were driven by their passion for freedom, they felt guilty for their actions, they blamed themselves for everything that was wrong in the world. Elias was a controlled chaos, lethal but noble, while Laia was weak and scared but she recognized her fear and she tried to tame it for the sake of the people she loved. You may have heard that there is a love square in this book, but things are a little more complicated. You see, Elias and Laia don't have many scenes together. Both of them have another love interest that makes them confused, but I strongly believe they are mere distactions, a way to show that Elias and Laia come from different worlds and there are people who are more suitable for them, but the attraction and connection between them is off the charts and simply, they belong together. Which is unfortunate for me because I have a huge I want to have your babies crush on Elias.



If you were patient enough to read this review, then you understand you have to drop everything you're doing and grab An Ember in the Ashes as fast as you can. Pretty pretty please?

Profile Image for Tharindu Dissanayake.
281 reviews504 followers
May 28, 2021
"Ten burning hells."

First person - present tense - multiple POVs: That's uncharted territory for me. And after 400+ pages, here I'm, only barely getting used to the narrative. But once you look past that, An Ember in the Ashes is a solid, thoroughly enjoyable read.

"Skies, she's beautiful."

Let's start with the good. The plot-line here is amazing. There's never a dull moment in this high-fantasy world created created by Tahir, which appears to inherit a little from ancient Rome. Though there are two POVs sharing the same plot-line, they starts from opposite perspectives. This is a good thing, especially with this being first person, to better understand the initial conditions. There aren't a lot of twists in the first part, but the excitement of diving in to a new world will carry the reader easily to second part. And that's when things start to get really interesting, and completely unpredictable, followed by a spectacular ending in third part. I really loved the story-line in this first book - all three parts - which places a strong foundation for the entire series. Although, the attempt at creating a somewhat shallow love triangle did not make much sense for me, and I'm hoping there will be less emphasis on that in next books.

"The battle is a dance, one I know so well I barely have to think."

The two main characters are a pleasure to move along with, and I liked them both equally. True, Laia's character is not very complicated, but I'm hoping the author did that intentionally to have her improve continuously as the series unfolds. Elias on the other hand is a solid character, with enough complexity from the very beginning. The support characters, the good ones, are also quite interesting. The problem I have is with the villains. They appear to be completely one-dimensional, and utterly cruel, like they have zero emotions. Except for a very brief instance towards the end, there's nothing to help make there case whatsoever. Again, I'm hoping the 'villains' will also grow out of petty cruelty from next book.

"Seeing the enemy as a human. A general's ultimate nightmare."

The good thing about the first person present tense narrative is, it makes the reading exceptionally easy. Then Tahir's writing is also very clear, which in combination with the narrative makes the reading a pleasant experience. However, If you're a big fan of world building, it is highly likely that you are bound to be disappointed with this world. Aside from the map at the beginning, there's very little attention towards world building (compared to the average fantasy book). But for me, the plot-line was interesting enough to keep me engaged, and to pick up the next book immediately.

"Nan always said that as long as there is life, there is hope."
Profile Image for She-who-must-not-be-named .
180 reviews1,185 followers
February 24, 2022
"The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release."

An Ember in the Ashes is a double PoV fantasy+dystopia novel that takes place in the Martial Empire , an alternate universe with an uncompromising class system.

Elias is a soldier, a Mask (elite class) in a military academy: The very much dreaded and torturous, Blackcliff.

Laia belongs to an oppressed class, that of Scholars and her brother has been charged with treason. Laia joins the Resistance , an organisation trying to overthrow the Martial Empire, in exchange for their aid in getting her brother out of the prison. But her mission isn't uncomplicated: She has to work as a slave to spy on Blackcliff's vicious, merciless, stone-hearted, *insert all the worst adjectives you can think of*: Commandant .

‎ Elias, who happens to be the Commandant's bastard son, must compete in a series of Trials to be the Empire's next ruler, but secretly, he hates being the ruthless Empire's lapdog and plans to run away. But things take an unexpected turn especially when he meets his mother's beautiful and smart slave, for the better or for worse....

Characters

Commandant: Unloving and brutal, she exudes a deathly chill. The way she treats her slaves will make you flinch and turn your stomach to water. She does not tolerate mistakes and delays and she most definitely doesn't hesitate to kill.
"We don’t hear the Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy approach; we feel her, the way you feel a storm coming. She moves silently, emerging from the arches like a fair-haired jungle cat from the underbrush."

Helene:

She 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." She would rather stab herself in the eye than disobey a direct order.

Elias Veturius: Our male protagonist. A Mask . He is the rebellious son of the Commandant but is raised by the Tribesman. Unlike other Masks, he was taught to be kind and compassionate and not harsh and brutal.

Laia: Our female protagonist. Where her parents are brave and lionhearted, she considers herself weak, cowardly, and fearful.
Except, she is stronger than she realises.
Her devotion to her brother and her need to save him from the clutches of the Martial Empire drives her to try the impossible and even achieve them.

Augurs: Immortal beings with an ability to read minds and predict the future.

Jinns, ghuls, wraiths, efrits, augurs and other mystical and immortal creatures also weave in and out of the story.

Trigger Warnings:
There are several references about rape, slavery, mild profanity, and a LOT of violence. When I emphasize the 'Lot' part, I mean it one hundred percent.


The plot starts slow but develops a lot later and will suck you in. This book is a dual POV (Elias and Laia's) which helps get into their heads and get an even sense of what's going on.

What I didn't like in this book was the writing style, it was mediocre. The romance felt a bit forced and rushed and not to mention, dull. There wasn't much tension or angst or whatsoever between the leads.
I wouldn't go out of the way and say the world was amazing either because to a large extent, it felt unoriginal. But a lot of what happens combined with the twists overshadow the book's shortcomings, so I'll give it 4 stars. ‎
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,292 reviews2,287 followers
August 6, 2022
⚔️Most favourite character : Helene Aquilla

⚔️What surprised me: The unexpected turn of events towards the end.

Now we can expect more than one strong villian in the sequel.

⚔️What worked out that made me jumped to the next book without even waiting for a blink:

The confusion between the characters worked out quite well towards the end and there's so much to look forward to. The writing doesn't waste words. So yes, 400 something pages awaits me for more chilling reading.

⚔️Elais and Laia:

These characters are developed so well that you clapped the hardest while reading the last chapter!

There's not much romance which I appreciate. It's there but it's telling you to have the pizza delivery kind of patience. The pizza is coming in slices in the sequels I feel.

Bleeding skies, the first book is good!

⚔️ First when the book started, I was like Sabaa Tahir is good. And after that for the rest of the pages left, I was still like Sabaa Tahir is really good!

And then, there's the characters!

When the Mask guy first appeared, I wanted to murder him so bad. But (STOP!) after a few pages (first introduction to Elias), I was like may my evil thoughts disappear forever! Why would I want to kill my future fictional bias who's so soft inside like gooey caramel, but acting tough on the outside because he's meant to be the Mask one (with the mask unwilling to merge on his face. I would have suggested Fevicol or something but I wasn't in the story and I support the author in meaning to make this guy come out as my fictional bias so no to any glue or alike ☺️)

And then there's my weakling piece, Laia. YOU. ARE. NOT. AS. WEAK. AS. YOU. BELIEVE. YOU. ARE.

Keenan. Damn. I feel so bad to ship you two. But I do still bad if I do not ship you two.

Helen. Damn. What's wrong with Elias when it comes to you two? Besties. I get that. But the chemistry is too good.

And the chemistry is just as good between Laia and Elias.

CAN ANYONE SEE THE PROBLEM HERE?

What am I supposed to do in such situations, tell me, Sabaa Tahir?


And then the Commandant?! Even I got scared. Like my mom would find out something I do not want her to find out. She's that intimidating 🤦


The plot is so convincing! I mean give me more! If series are going to be a series (what am I writing?!), it has to be like this 👆

The world building is amazingly done. Less description yet it follows the characters well enough to let you know even the tiniest details of the world.

Even the magical paranormal beings that keep fluttering around keeps playing with your head while they haunt the characters too well in their weakest moments.

I love how the story deals with family and friendship bonds under difficult circumstances.

I loved the side characters and loved knowing about their background stories. I love the love-hate vibes that do not come out too strong nor too weak.

Try to know about Izzy and the Cook too.

I love the consistent flow of the story with something interesting to look forward to in each page. And the story ended! Seriously, why?


⚔️If at all you want me to say something which I feel you might feel uncomfortable while reading this book, I would say there are some scenes of assault and violence but I would say they are not that descriptive. It might trigger you (and you will feel actual pain while reading such scenes) but I would say it's not at all overdone.

⚔️ The writing is addictive. The characters jump out of nowhere to strangle you and your heart. The pain they suffer makes you actually writhe. And the reader in you becomes an assassin determined to pick up the rest of the books in the series just after reading page 2 of the first book.

⚔️ And yes, the chemistry boils. Not just between the main characters but yes, the side characters are rather too convincing that sometimes you don't know what to do with them while shipping the main OTP. (There were moments of doubt who was pairing up with whom during the entire read because..... I love these characters so much and either way the chemistry would work out with any pair. Yes, the writing is that good.)


😱 And the reader here got hooked. Rather too much 💘

I wish every book I read for the rest of my life is this good. There wasn't a dull moment in the entire book and I couldn't afford to miss out even a word. Cover to cover love is real when it comes to books like this!

*27th December 2020:
(Just after closing the book)

[[[ Where was I all this time? Was I in the same Universe as this series?

****I need some time to handle these feelings****

Review or whatever it is, wait. I need food, sleep and sanity and a lil wee time to adapt to my new fictional family of assassins. Assassins with gummy bear hearts 💝💝💝💝 you 4 stay safe.]]]


*Started reading this book on 26th December 2020 at around 10.45 pm thinking I would just check out a page and go to sleep.

I mean who was I kidding?!

I mean WHO TOLD YOU TO START A BOOK JUST BEFORE YOU GO TO SLEEP?

A BOOK LIKE THIS 🤦☺️

*My favourite lines:

"I live with my sins every day.

I live with the guilt.
But there are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you're useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose."
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51k followers
Read
October 16, 2022
It took me forever to read this book, and the reason is that it never really engaged me.

Tahir is a good writer and the story has much to recommend it. The story is delivered through two first person points of view in present tense – which is a bold and refreshing approach. I’m just not the reader it’s aimed at.

Ember in the Ashes is the first book I’ve read (all the way through) in decades that wears its YA colours so boldly. Many things that are complex in reality are made simple. The “factions” conceit from films/books like Insurgent is taken to a nation level here – the Martials with their brutish empire have enslaved the Scholars whose lands valued arts and learning. This is reminiscent of Eddings’ Belgariad from way back in the early 80s where each nation had a defining characteristic and everyone from within its borders demonstrated it at each opportunity. Relationships are also simplified with multiple instances of insta-love, fuelled by very small levels of interaction (which is not unrealistic for the age group).

Much of the action and plotting, whilst exciting, is very difficult to reconcile with reality. The fight scenes defy physics without the aid of magic. The highly secure battle school whose thousands of students stand guard and patrol regularly is essentially a come & go as you please place when the plot wants it to be. There’s a dangerous trail to it that somehow gives secret access … this made no sense to me, and repeated things of this nature hurt my ability to buy in.

Slaves who live harsh, regimented lives also seem to have plenty of leisure time to help the resistance and sabotage on an industrial scale.

Another sour point for me are the Augurs, seemingly the sole owners of magic in the book, who have near infinite power and foretell the future with startling accuracy. The plot is almost entirely driven by their seemingly random pronouncements that are never explained. Perhaps in a later book reasons are given but in this book it just felt arbitrary. For me, when you give endless power (including mind reading and future-sight) to arbitrary figures who drive the course of events then I lose interest – it becomes rather random.

My final issue is more amazement really. I am used to any mention of rape in "adult" fantasy rallying a chorus of condemnation. The author shouldn’t include it. The “it’s lazy” argument is rolled out along with a host of others. I had people specifically congratulate me on a book of mine where the female hero is thrown in a cell for torture for the fact she is never threatened with rape (that wasn’t a political decision - I just happened to think that having bits cut off instead was a nastier threat).

+Anyway+ this book is STUFFED FULL of threats of rape.

The book focuses on a male battle school where once in a generation a girl is admitted. The current girl is one of the two main characters’ best friend. The former girl is now the same main character’s mother and commandant of the school. It’s strongly hinted that BOTH have been raped.
The other main character is a young woman of around 17 and she is constantly under threat of rape in the book.

Here are the explicit threats / mentions of rape in the book that I noticed. I am sure I haven’t caught them all:

- But I think of the Mask’s cold regard, of the violence in his eyes. I’ve always loved dark-haired girls. He will rape me. Then he will kill me.

- Those of us not ordered to the border will be given city commands, where we’ll hunt down Resistance fighters or Mariner spies. We’ll be free, all right. Free to laud the Emperor. Free to rape and kill.

- She’ll disfigure you in the first few weeks, but you’ll thank her for it eventually—if the scarring’s bad enough, it’ll keep the older students from raping you too often.”

- The slaver nods a greeting to the guards stationed at the gates and pulls my chain as if I’m a dog. I shuffle after him. Rape...disfigurement...branding.

- Students don’t get much in the way of women at Blackcliff, unless they rape a slave or pay a whore

- You know what I’ve always wondered? If raping you would be like fighting you.

- And since students rape slaves all the time neither he nor I will be punished.
Shouldn’t have fought, he said, I’d have gone easy one you. But then I like a little spirit in my women.

- Did he rape you? No sir. Why would that be?


Note: I am not outraged. I think in the society described and the situations portrayed they are realistic threats. +BUT+ in adult fantasy, certainly in the places I hang out on the internet, I would expect a book like this to get relentless focus on the RAPE content in a great deal of the reviews and discussions. Many would say that it was the author’s choice to make a world where rape was an ever present threat, and why did they not choose to make a different world?

So I am surprised. And noting that surprise.

I can certainly see why this book did so well among the demographic it is aimed at though. It’s exciting, well written, and full of action with strong romance threads that cross-over for added complications.


The characters are so harshy treated that towards the end I was more engaged and rooting for them to get a break.




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Profile Image for Warda.
1,152 reviews18.3k followers
July 9, 2018
What a whirlwind! This book was just so damn exciting to read! I felt high constantly, because Sabaa Tahir was not letting her readers breath for even a moment. Well, she’ll give you a minute or two, then it’s back to chaos again, AND IT WAS AWESOME!

I can’t believe this was actually intended to be a standalone at first. As if they were planning to leave us with that ending and so many plot lines left open.

I did fear at first that the plot was taking centre stage and there wasn’t going to be any background given to the characters, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. I still want more, but this book has set up the world and the characters really well and I can’t wait to see how this will progress in further books.

So far, Elias is my favourite character. His section was written really well, or his tone came across better. Laia’s POV came across slightly insecure, but I’m assuming that voice was intended. The multiple POV added a really amazing and fast paced dynamic to the story. The writing did an awesome some at bringing the tension and atmosphere to live.

This book was just pure enjoyment. I loved that it was brutal and it wasn’t shied away from just because it’s YA. I’m hoping for more brutality in the next 2 books.




———————————-
The time has come for me to jump on the bandwagon. Seems like Sabaa Tahir is destroying her readers with her latest book and I want to be part of it.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
November 24, 2018
okay. in 2019, some things are going to change. i am going to take the whole ‘new year, new me’ to heart, beginning with not waiting YEARS to read a book that everyone has told me to read. because i really havent been living my best life without this.

this was the fantasy story ive been needing recently. i was very much impressed with the world building - this introduced a lot of different aspects, and whilst not everything immediately affected the plot of this particular book, i felt like there was so much set-up for an amazing series to come.

and even though the writing felt a bit plain and the characters were decent, i couldnt help but be so entertained by this. i was immediately hooked and drawn into the story. i think the whole ‘your destiny has been seen and foretold’ and how each of the characters comes to terms with that (not to mention how everything intertwines with each other) was the highlight for me. it was definitely the sort of plot that makes everything so engaging and i cant wait to see how everything plans out!!

and i promised i have learned my lesson - when multiple people recommend a book, i will be so much happier if i just read it!! cant believe i have gone so long without this in my life!

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Dana Kenedy (Dana and the Books).
208 reviews1,002 followers
September 17, 2017
This review can also be found on my blog, Dana and the Books.

This book was amazing. Sabaa Tahir, I love you.

An Ember in the Ashes has been hovering on my to-read list ever since it's release about a year ago.  It got a lot of praise, a lot of hype, and it's all totally warranted.  It even earned a spot on my 'favourites' list.

Laia's grandparents are murdered and her brother taken prisoner; her only course of action is to join the resistance against the empire to save her brother.  Elias is a soldier for the empire, but wants nothing more than to desert.

 

Here is a 100% accurate reenactment of my reading progression:

At first, I was pretty into it.



Then I was really into it.



Then I couldn't stop reading



And now it's over.







Seriously, go read this. It's a fantastic fantasy story with great character development and it will keep you from sleeping because you can't imagine going to bed without finishing the story.  (Amazon US / Amazon CA / Book Depository)
Profile Image for Sara Raasch.
Author 16 books5,738 followers
August 14, 2014
This book will destroy you.

(PS: Elias is mine shhhh no one understands him like I do)
Profile Image for Robin Hobb.
Author 340 books97.5k followers
June 6, 2015
An Ember in the Ashes is a deceptively simple read. The writing is as smooth as silk and keeps one reading long after the lights should have been out. Short chapters and the youthful viewpoints might put this book firmly in the Young Adult category.

But the questions considered in this book are the very questions that must be considered as one moves into adulthood. How much should an individual be willing to suffer ‘for the greater good?’ Is it foolish to struggle if one can avoid extreme pain by accepting an oppressive system and clinging to whatever small comforts there can be in daily life? Is idealism and heroism glorious if it means sacrificing the safety of your children and loved ones?

A compelling story, simply told, that considers both the cost of struggling for freedom and the price of maintaining supremacy . An Ember in the Ashes pits the false security of submission against the terrifying price of gaining choice. Set in an oppressive society, the two view point characters could not be more different in status, nor more alike in their subjugation. This tale recognizes that the ruthlessness required to retain power is as restrictive as the slave’s subjugation.

Profile Image for Beth.
700 reviews572 followers
June 1, 2022
"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."

Spoiler Free Review

I'm in utter bliss after reading this!

ALL OF THE STARS, every single one! I am unashamedly in LOVE with this and everything about it. I can't believe it has taken me this long to actually read it! An Ember in the Ashes has been on my bookshelf for the longest time, and I got a message from Fathima being like, we should Buddy Read this, and me being the utter fool I am was HESITANT! However this was so unexpected and now it's one of my new favourites and I could cry with happiness, because of how much I loved this, but I'll stop rambling and try and write a review, even though in my head I'm thinking I need A Torch Against the Night right now. Also I'm just throwing it out there this is the BEST Buddy Read I've done with Fathima this year, we finished it pretty much at the exact same time! It's a miracle!

I'm just going to throw it out there, by the first chapter I was already drawn in. It was so intense and so much seemed to be happening! I found the book so easy to follow, and things were fast paced, but didn't seem to miss anything. The character building was done so well and it keeps you second guessing things (which is always a plus). Whenever I picked up the book my heart would not stop going, like I was worried for my characters here! It's one of those books where you're saying to yourself Just one more chapter... 10 chapters later and your mind is blown! There was always something happening, building or relationships, The Trials, secrecy, cunning characters, wicked characters, mystical things that shouldn't be there. I was just so blown away by everything.

"Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don't let it control you. Don't let it show doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. Your heart."

Characters This is going to be a hot mess...

Firstly we have Laia in the first few chapters we see her whole world turn upside down, I initially didn't know what to actually think of her, however as the story progressed I actually enjoyed her character so much more than what I thought! We see her go from someone who seems quite timid, go to great lengths to do what she believes is right. I like how strong willed she is, that she tries to defend herself, we see her open up and question things she knows is wrong. Something that I really really really enjoyed was her friendship with Izzi (and also Cook kind of?!) it was see them both come together and see what they can do to help each other out.

Here is where it may become me just raving on and on about my new book love Elias... oh my. I think I have come to the point where I can hold my hands up and say I am in a new set of crazy with how much I love Elias! We see him challenge things he knows are wrong. Everything that he's supposed to be, he detests, even with his friends he asks questions and wants them to know that what they do is wrong. I loved the idea of his Mask and how it doesn't set on his face like the others, his struggles he goes through and that he stands up for what is right. At times I felt like he was my knight in shining armour... I know, I know. I can't help but swoon right now. My poor little heart couldn't take those last few chapters!

Teeny tiny shout out to Helene I have no idea what to think right now... all the way hrough I was asking myself do I actually like her (I still don't know the answer to this) but I know why she is like she is, and I'm so intrigued by many many things! I'm looking forward to reading about her in the next book!

What I liked?
- I have a soft spot for Izzi and Cook, and I need to know EVERYTHING, back stories included.
- TRIALS! Those trials were so good! The third one, I was like fuuuuuuuuuck! Then in the 4th one I was doing the same!
- CHAPTER 41 STOLE MY HEART, I don't care, I loved it!
- Cooks story for Laia
- Elias... you know I have heart eyes for you.
- All of the unanswered questions!
- The fact that I had no clue who would win the Trials.
- The bad characters are sooooooo evil and I just love it!
- When it was the moon party, there was such freedom and joy, my heart was just so happy.

I honestly didn't dislike anything

Overall, this is clearly a new favourite of mine. I can't wait to Buddy Read A Torch Against The Night, if my ship doesn't sail I'm coming for you Sabaa Tahir. But seriously I have no clue what's going to happen, I feel so happy that I read this and I need answers!

I thought I'd listen to the audiobook seen as though A Reaper at the Gates is out in just over a month, even though I read this literally 4 months ago... yep I did that. So some thoughts I picked up this time around:
- I actually liked Helene a lot more, I think it was easier to see her thought process a second time around and I didn't give her enough credit, my eyes were focused elsewhere.
- There's some very subtle things I hadn't noticed before
-Keenan still annoyed me
- The commandant is just so evil, and I like itttt!
- Kind of wanting to know more about the Auras
- ELIAS IS STILL SO PRECIOUS AND I LOVE HIM
- Ship needs to sail.
- It's just as good re-reading as when I first read it.

I love this series.

An Ember in the Ashes - 5 Stars!
A Torch Against The Night - 5 Stars
A Reaper at the Gates - 5 Stars
A Sky Beyond The Storm - 5 Stars

A Thief Among The Trees - 5 Stars

———-
17.09.19

I can’t even explain how much I adore this book, this series and these characters. Hands down one of my all time favourite series.

Always Victorious

”As long as there is life, there is hope”

———-
29.06.20

If you haven’t read the rest of the series I would stop here as I’m pointing a few things I’ve noticed on the many re-reads and some things may not be outright spoilers but you may end up looking for things relating to the characters.

1. Cook in general: when she talks about things and why she acts in a certain way, especially when she thought that Laia was hurt/killed
2. Izzy and Laias friendship, I think in a book like this to have something so innocent and pure with nothing negative I really enjoy it more and more each time.
3. I think my stand out chapters are always The Moon Festival and when Laia is “given as a prize” (I’ve worded that terribly I mean in the sense of them talking)
4. I ALWAYS strip down everything Keenan says and does, and this is now my fourth re-read and I’m still noticing new things I never saw!
5. Honestly that last chapter, Elias’s friendships that he’s made make me so happy with the things they do for him I’m like OOOOOOOOH!

So yes. I still love this series, the characters, the plot. I could eat it all up.

———-
Re Read 12.11.2020
Yes I read it again like 3 months later, no regrets!

I love them all so much.
———

Re-Read 29.05.2021
5th time Re-reading this book, and my god I love it just as much tbh! After reading Sky l there were so may little things I picked up on that kind of linked with different things that happened in that and GURLLLL.

This is by far one all time favourite series!
-------

01.06.222 Re-Read
Still gives me all the feels, and Dex crying at the end, ahhhhhhh.

I just love all of these characters so much. I think because I've read this multiple times it always feels like returning to my family. Weird but very very true.
Profile Image for Natalie Monroe.
591 reviews3,541 followers
January 11, 2021


Nice Natalie: Let's start this civil. After you.

Cynical Natalie: Don't mind if I do. An Ember In The Ashes is cliche tripe—

Nice Natalie: But we enjoyed it!

Cynical Natalie: Pipe down and wait your turn. As I was saying, it's your generic dystopian fantasy. Evil government+class divide+forbidden romance. Its only saving grace is that it's mildly better than Red Queen, which is like saying being dipped in acid is less painful than being burnt at stake.

Nice Natalie: Are you done?

Cynical Natalie: No. What the fuck is with the rape shit?

Nice Natalie: I liked it! It adds a realist element. Slaves get raped all the time, so it's refreshing to see it's an actual threat.

Cynical Natalie: It's an actual threat in Game of Thrones.



Here, it's all posturing and no action. Accepting your premise that slaves are often raped, which I agree with, why is Laia the only one who's constantly threatened with rape? What about Izzi or Cook? What about the other female slaves? What haven't we seen concrete evidence of rape except in the case of Laia? That makes it a plot device. Elias swoops in and rescues her from Marcus, for fuck's sake.

Nice Natalie: But she doesn't fall in love with him because of that.

Cynical Natalie: You're right. She falls for him, and vice versa, because they both won the genetic lottery.

"Instead, I'm faced with a slave-girl looking up at me through impossibly long eyelashes. A heated, visceral shock flares through me at the clarity of her dark gold eyes. For a second, I forget my name.

...Her black dress fits her like a glove, sliding over every curve in a way that makes more than one head turn. Her full lips and fine, straight nose would be the envy of most girls."




I'm not even going near this one:

"Many of the young men around me sneak glances at her. She doesn't seem to notice, which, of course, makes her all the more intriguing."




Nice Natalie: Other rapes are mentioned. Remember

Cynical Natalie: We don't have concrete proof. I have my own problems with her.

Nice Natalie: An Ember In The Ashes is a male-dominated world. She has to be extra tough.

Cynical Natalie: You mean to the point where she twirls her mustache?



Nice Natalie: Not all villains are horrible. Marcus is pretty fleshed out.

Cynical Natalie: At the expense of world-building. Society is divided between Martials and Scholar slaves and... what, a bunch of trees and ocean?

Laia's brother hardly has any personality at all. It's a cheap dystopian trope. Take out the sibling to create angst, rage against the system, and get the plot ball moving. Forgive me if I don't shed a tear for a character I knew for twenty pages.

Nice Natalie: Uh-uh. Remember the last trial? We were devastated when Elias

Cynical Natalie: Devastated is a very strong word. What about Helene? She should've died, too. It was a total cop-out.

Nice Natalie: It was a clever loophole.

Cynical Natalie: No, it was to preserve the love triangle. Love triangles. What's the point? We all know Elias and Laia will live happily ever after and produce physically perfect kids for the Empire's version of Vogue. Oh, wait, that's too much world-building.

Nice Natalie: Maybe the author will expand the map in the sequel, like in Prodigy. You don't know that.

Cynical Natalie: I do know the writing leans towards impersonal third-person rather the first-person it's written in. Thoughts are usually in italics and the characters constantly talk to themselves, like "Don't be stupid, Laia" or something. It's annoying and a disgrace to the style you've chosen.

Nice Natalie: You can complain all you want. You can't deny we enjoyed it.

Cynical Natalie: In the moment. Give it a couple months. I guarantee you won't remember anyone's names.

Nice Natalie: I cordially accept your challenge.

Cynical Natalie:




Other Nice Natalie/Cynical Natalie brawls reviews:
The Fault In Our Stars
A Girl Like You
If I Stay
Dreams of Gods & Monsters
The Martian
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Catching Fire
All The Rage
Harry Potter & the Cursed Child
The Hammer of Thor
The Ship of the Dead
Caraval
Warcross
The Last Namsara
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,571 reviews33.9k followers
January 26, 2015
Well, damn. There had better be a sequel for this book! Penguin, you can't just leave us hanging there!

The first few chapters are absolutely riveting (you can read an excerpt here, btw: http://www.mtv.com/news/2051414/exclu...), and the cruel, merciless world these characters inhabit is well drawn. The feel of this book reminded me of the Legend trilogy, actually, though I think Ember is more complex in plot, characters, and setting. It's fantasy that feels a bit dystopian, which is pretty interesting.

I'm mulling over a couple of major points that I think could have made this book better , but overall I enjoyed this very much. Review to come.
Profile Image for Maryam Rz..
220 reviews2,651 followers
August 16, 2021
You all know of reading slumps, right?

Every once in a while the world is a desert and you a traveler barely alive, dangling from threadbare ropes hanging onto life. And then you stumble on a well made of stories deep enough to satiate your thirst and drink, hundred pages at a time, no longer slumping around. And thus you remember what it was to fly on wings of hope across worlds of adventure and song—tragic and brutal, yes, but still alive.

An Ember in the Ashes was one such a well, immersive, ruthless, and addictive, sprinkled with the right amount of mythical mystery and forbidden romance, and so cruel as to make you rage and hate and beg for reprieve. I am pleased to announce that my slump, dear gentlemen and gentlewomen, has been conquered.

Better ice than warmth. Better strength than weakness.

This is a tale of pain that rains and drains with violence and hopelessness, a fortress of steadfast loyalty with bricks made up of broken souls built on the destruction of freedom; it is a desert with dunes of ash that drown and hide secrets and lies, a raging wind lifting embers out of those ashes and howling at them to wake up and burn down the fortress to the ground.

It’s a young story of faith, fear, and freedom and I a human sitting amidst the storm, unable—no, unwilling—to turn away from the beauty of the excruciating tragedy of it all; until the last page was turned, that is, and I had to stagger out, my gaze glued to the suffering left in my footsteps.

“There are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.”

But all of that sounds perfect, so what is the issue?

You see, reading Ember is akin to listening to the tale of a chess match related by a piece on the board—despite the interesting turn of events, not only are the characters not actively controlling the path they walk, they don’t even see the full picture as they struggle in a game that does not make sense to them, and thus limit your perspective as well. This is both a weakness and a strength, depending on your point of view.

If you are only reading for a ruthless yet fun adventure, not to bothered with picking events apart to figure out the intricacies of the story, then you will enjoy this page-turner. But if you are, like me, someone who loves to question and understand and predict everything, then there are two possibilities: either you will see the unanswerable questions and vague happenstances that will not be explained until later books as plotholes and lose your respect for the book, or trust in the author and see them as intentional mysteries (and, mind you, a lot of cryptic or odd things are noted throughout the book to stress the fact that things are not as they seem) and thus enjoy the cleverness and be wholly engaged in the reading experience.

For yours truly(curiousandoptimistic) the case was the latter of the latter, and yet this honest soul cannot deny that even as she reveled in finding questions within these 400+ pages and was awed as their answers clicked snugly into place with the sequels, it is still a weakness for a book of a series to not stand on its own—and Ember does not. This debut would have benefited if a couple of the series’ big reveals were moved to the end of its first installment to give the reader reassurance that there is a point to the mysteries and that the shadows in the picture are where the true masterpiece lies.

“The ghosts of our misdeeds seek vengeance,” the Augur says. “But the cost will be high.”

This quartet is a grand story of a wrong done a people and made more disastrous when avenged, a great wrong that must be righted for which true war is the only way, an epic tale of suffering and determined yet naive characters growing to battle the extremely violent and deadly world they dwell in as oppressed or oppressor to try with all they have to take control of their fates (whether they succeed or fail is of no importance), and this first book does not do it justice. A book does indeed become less interesting when the characters are more reacting than acting, and Ember falls prey to this sin, and so it fails to match the excellence of the continuation of the Ember Quartet. Whatever you do, don’t judge this series by its first book.



Series CW ➾ rape, slavery, genocide, fascism, racism, sexism, sadism, child abuse and labour, manipulation, emotional abuse, general abuse, torture, disfigurement, branding, whippings, animal cruelty, loss of loved ones, mass murder, violence and gore


Storyline & Structure

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. The moment Darin called out—that was such a moment. It was a test of courage, of strength. And I failed it.

The Martial Empire—with its tyrannical and ruthless rule, cruel slavery of the Scholar race, elite and cold Mask soldiers who live only to serve and kill for the Empire, and raids in the light of day and dead of night that butcher families and crush hopes—is not a place where the flame of resistance can take more than half a breath before it is doused and buried. It is your choice whether to face it by accepting or questioning, living or dying—because those who question are usually the ones who die.

And that is why Laia, an orphan Scholar girl under constant threat in the Martial Empire, keeps her head down as she and her family barely make it every day, dreaming of nothing except keeping her grandparents and brother safe. But when her brother is arrested for treason, Laia has to choose between staying forever silent, attempting to get everything back to the painful normal of before, and standing up to face her fears and defy her fate.

“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes. That is your destiny.”

“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

But the oppressed are not the only ones longing for freedom, suffocated by this regime—because Elias Veturius, one of those very oppressors, a boy who is to be the best Mask graduated from Blackcliff, despises the rules and duty he has to live by and uphold. And just as he is ready to leave it all behind, he’ll find his fate is irrevocably tied to this cursed path of destruction.

For Elias and Laia and all those around them, this tale is a test of their mettle. They must root out and conquer their weaknesses, think on who to trust and who to be wary of, and find out their purpose as they face death at every turn. Because they’re in now as they have been before they even knew, and there is no going back.

“The dead are dead, my boy, and at your hand.” I don’t want to hear the words, but I need them, for they are the truth. Anything less would be an insult to the men I killed. “No amount of wishing will change it. You’ll be trailing ghosts now. Like the rest of us.”

Narrative Structure: Having recently done some research into seven of the different structures for storytelling, I thought it’d be interesting to analyse the books I’m reading to see which structure they seem to be following—actually, it’s less intentional analysis and more sjdbdjjdk I’m noticing patterns and similarities I can’t stop it what do I do skdnbxjxk.

So anyways, out of the seven I studied (Freytag’s Pyramid, Fichtean Curve, In medias res, Three-Act Structure, Seven-Point Story Structure, Hero’s Journey, and Save the Cat) I realised that, whether Sabaa Tahir was aware of it or not, her debut applies Dan Wells’ Seven-Point Story Structure for both Laia and Elias’s arc, which produces a fast-paced engaging story with seven crucial and dramatic points in the tale:

The Hook where reader is immediately gripped by an inciting incident, Plot Point 1 where the main conflict is introduced and the character sets out on his/her journey, Pinch Point 1 where a devastating turn of events truly introduces the antagonist, Midpoint where the hero finally decides to rise and act against whatever they face, Pinch Point 2 where plans are ruined and all is lost, Plot Point 2 where they realise they hold the solution to their problems, and Resolution where the tale ends on a high note with a climax.

I have no idea if you found this interesting or not but I did so I don’t care of you all hate me for it—it explains why this book is so gripping, OK?



Writing & Worldbuilding

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.

I believe what makes Ember the popular and unique tale it is hailed as, even before its layered characters, is its atmosphere and storytelling.

To discuss the writing style first, Sabaa Tahir has a flowing pen that perfectly fits the young adult genre—it’s fast and addictive and easy and yet has enough occasional beauty (even in this debut, though the elegancy certainly blooms and grows in the future books) to keep you passionate; it’s dramatic enough to be intriguing and yet not too relentlessly dramatic to leave a sour taste in your mouth (like Sarah J. Maas’s early works).

Blackcliff has no graveyard. Among these walls, all that remains of the fallen is the emptiness of where they walked, the silence where their voices rang.

But the true jewel of Ember that sets it apart from many young adult novels is its stark brutality that is framed flawlessly by every angle, every edge of the book. The tragedy and danger that is real and inevitable as death, shattered bones of a slave and the betrayal of those we dare naively trust. We are not told this brutality but showed it, never allowed to forget the racist, sexist, sadistic world we dwell in—every taste and sound building the bleak atmosphere a reminder. This is why I can call this book a favourite; well, this and the layered, complicated characters.

“Would it have been better if I’d cut your face like Cook’s?” she murmurs. “Beauty’s a curse when one lives among men. You might have thanked me for it.”



Characters & Relationships

Laia of Serra (ISFJ) ➾ Young adult books are so filled with heroines who are either cunning warriors or soft damsels in distress that it’s rare to find a realistic depiction of the strong girls of the world—those who fear and doubt yet see their flaws and face them with determination, always pushing themselves to be stronger, ones who lack in confidence but slowly find it as they face down their demons and see their own worth, souls who, at first, might not march into battle at a few whispers of injustic, more occupied with keeping their loved ones safe, but when woken up would chide themselves for their weakness and refuse to run from it.

“Fear is only your enemy if you allow it to be. Too much fear and you’re paralyzed, too little fear and you’re arrogant.”

This realistic strength is one that is ignored by many. We all love the girls swinging swords battling demons of hell, not the ones battling internal demons with a human, doubt-filled unwillingness to give up. It’s important to remember that there are different types of strength, just as there are different types of pain; some pain is calculated cruelty designed to hone you (like Helene’s) while some is careless suffering aimed to break you (like Laia’s), made to have you give up and true strength is when you don’t. I thank Sabaa for remembering this.

“As long as there is life, there is hope.”

Elias Veturius (ENFP) ➾ In my naive Elias, Sabaa wrote of innocence that doesn’t fit in and is tortured for it, of duties that you hate and want to flee with every fiber of your being, of an oppressor who is as chained as who he oppresses. It’s a human tale of questioning who you and those around you are, and it’s made all the more beautiful for the complications all these bonds formed with friends and strangers bring to the table; namely, Elias’s best friend Helene.

“You were a child. A normal child. And that was taken from you.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Well, it certainly makes you harder to hate.”
“Seeing the enemy as a human. A general’s ultimate nightmare.”

Helene Aquilla (ISTJ) ➾ As someone who lives and breathes duty and loyalty, Helene, the only girl in this deadly school, is a tricky character. Of course, it’s awe-inspiring for someone to have such unwavering capacity for blind faith and steadfast loyalty to their friend; but when you are so blindly loyal to a racist and fascist Empire, however well-meaning you are...well, you really make me want to pummel you.

But, what’s important is that all these characters have flaws (some worse than others) and this book and series is about capturing that humanity and its layered nature, and watching it grow through pain as it’s punched in the fact with reality and failure.



Companions

Book series playlist: Spotify URL


Books in series:
✧ An Ember in the Ashes (Ember Quartet, #1) ★★★★☆
A Torch Against the Night (Ember Quartet, #2) ★★★★★
A Reaper at the Gates (Ember Quartet, #3) ★★★★★
A Sky Beyond the Storm (Ember Quartet, #4) ★★★★★

Books in graphic novel prequel series:
A Thief Among the Trees (Ember Prequel, #1) ☆☆☆☆☆
Untitled (Ember Prequel, #2) ☆☆☆☆☆
Untitled (Ember Prequel, #3) ☆☆☆☆☆
Profile Image for Ashley Nuckles.
190 reviews7,256 followers
May 22, 2018
Reread May 2018: 5 stars easily. SO much better the second time around omfg


4.5 stars!!

OHHHMYYYYGOOOOODDDD

Even though it took me about 100 pages to actually start understanding and enjoying the book, I STILL LOVED IT!

As I was reading I kept imagining Laia as the girl on that famous Nat Geo magazine with the bright eyes and IT MADE THE EXPERIENCE SO MUCH BETTER.

I loved how both Laia and Elias developed in this book! (Though I did enjoy Elias' POV more at most parts, maybe just because it was more action packed.) And the worldbuilding, AHHHH. I hope we get to see more of it in the next one!

Overall I highly recommend. YEEESSS.
Profile Image for Zainab.
381 reviews498 followers
December 8, 2019
I've been throwing four and five stars here and there recently but it's not my fault that every other book I read turns out to be a gem.
All these (good) books came out during the time when even the word 'fantasy' would make me cringe but I've grown to like the genre so I'm lucky in this way that I have so many books to read now.
Anyway, this book is thrilling. The story is very different from other books in it's genre. The characters are so loveable (and some equally hateable. I'm looking at you Commandant and Marcus) you have our very strong protagonist Laia, Helene with her big big heart, Izzy who is so friking cute and of course sweet sweet Elias. The guy is so friking sweet, man. I love him.

The book is adventurous, it's amusing, it's thrilling and I'm not doing it the least bit of justice with this review but trust me, it's amazing.
Profile Image for ♥ℂĦℝΪՖƬΪℕÅ.
230 reviews3,933 followers
January 7, 2020
5 Bleeding, burning skies! STAR'S

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

“Fear is only your enemy if you allow it to be. Too much fear and you're paralyzed. Too little fear and you're arrogant.”

Buddy read with my VK/GR bestie Tania Parvin

*Reread*
Wowww! I love 'An Ember in the Ashes'!! It was even better the second time around if that's even possible! Again... It captured me from the very first page and held my attention the whole way through. An Ember in the Ashes is a real page-turner and it will leave you gasping for more! It was so hard putting this book down during the buddy read because I could have easily read this in one sitting :) Yeahhhh, It was that kinda good. The word "good" though, is such a small word to describe what this was. So here are a few better-fitted words to drive my point across- Amazing, alluring, addictive, awestruck, captivating, fantastic, powerful, wonderful, etc... Sabaa Tahir has created something really special here. The plot, the writing style, the world, and the characters are EVERYTHING that makes a story incredible!!! The Martial Empire is a brutal dark world, a place where any form of defiance is punishable by the Commandant and usually those who are stupid enough, find themselves DEAD! Slaves are lower than dirt and are disposable. You can do whatever you like to a slave... NOTHING, I mean NOTHING is off limits! In this book, you are introduced to a world that was overtaken years ago by the Empire. It's a horrifyingly terrible place, that is run by fear and death. A world of loyalties, lines crossed, futures foretold, treachery and of course the Resistance. The heroine is Laia, she comes across as cowardice at first but eventually, she finds her inner Lioness. She is a very likable person and easy to sympathize with. The hero is Elias, and he's a mask. Masks are to be feared but Elias is different from the rest. He hates the life that was chosen for him. More than anything he just wants to be free from it all. Elias is strong and courageous. I LOVE him so so so much ;) An Ember in the Ashes surpasses all the hype and I highly recommend this book/series to everyone looking for something dark and that will draw you in completely.

*This cover is beautifully done and with that title, I really had no choice but to read it!*

“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.”
Profile Image for Kainat 《HUFFLEPUFF & PROUD》.
293 reviews720 followers
September 4, 2016
Buddy reread with my baby, Hayley!
WOW is all i have to say right now.
I'll edit my review later.
------------------------------------------

“Once, i'd have wanted someone to tell me what to do,
to fix everything. Once, I'd have wanted to be saved."




WOW! I really don't know what to say without spoiling everything. The beginning was a little slow but what came after was totally worth it!... Who said this is a stand-alone novel?? HELLO? Did you miss that heart wrenching ending? There is no way in hell.



Elias, Laia, Keenan, and Helena are are main characters. Even just these names give me goosebumps, they are just so unique! I won't be talking about the plot because i don't want anyone getting spoiled.

“What you want doesn’t matter. Tomorrow you must make a choice. Between deserting and doing YOUR duty. If you desert, you will escape. You will leave the Empire. You will live. But you will find no solace in doing so. Your enemies will hunt you. Shadows will bloom in your heart, and you will become everything you hate—evil, merciless, cruel. You will be chained to the darkness within yourself as surely as if chained to the walls of a prison cell.”

Elias


Elias is a mask (a solder of the empire). First half of the book i couldn't stand him! He was lusting after his best friend Helena, he was running around whining and complaining. But he really grew on me!! Loved how he helped Laia when nobody was there for her.

Laia


Laia is the "Slave girl". Laia's story was really hard for me to read. Her parents are dead, her grandparents were slaughtered right in front of her, and her older brother (Darin) is captured by the solders. I loved Laia, she wasn't kick ass or sharp witted. She was scared but trying to be brave for her family! She was tortured, beaten, and lied to. But she didn't give up and at the end she kicked some serious ass! Couldn't be more happy!

Helena


Helena is Elais' best friend, the only girl mask. If Laia is too week for your taste then Helena is your girl! she is badass, strong, cold hearted, very loyal to the empire. I hated her through out the entire book. I wanted her outta the picture! I hated how she treated Laia just because she is a slave. Even though i didn't see it coming there was a reason behind everything she did. Her ending broke my heart into tiny little pieces!

Keenan


Keenan is with resistance, second in command! He is hands down my favorite of them all! I feel like we didn't get to see enough of him, but i liked whatever glimpse we got. I hope he is around more the in the second book. Laia and him just work for me. I just love him so much!!

Final thoughts;
Profile Image for Mohammed Arabey.
709 reviews5,612 followers
April 21, 2018
Never expected a YA that mature..
An 'Amber' in the Ashes..

A fine crafted Novel..every element perfectly measured.
Very well paced, exciting world..With deep, well developing characters..

In a world with the magical atmosphere of Arabian Nights tales...even with hints of Game of Thrones, Hunger Games..even HP's Goblet of Fire,
Yet emerges An original tale,An Ember in the Ashes.


Complete with amazing epic kinds of Love and attractions, long life friendship and new ones.. courage and Honor..Izzat ;Which an Arabic word means proving yourself Honored, Loyal and Brave..
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a personal issue
For me there's always something wrong with a YA novel..a tiresome pace, too much coincidences, silly love story, too young characters to do all this, unimaginable world set, too much unnecessary characters, RANT, lots and lots of rants in every topic.
Sometimes I feel some authors only interested in the category only...only females under 21 allowed.

Well, not in this case, as a male reader over 30 I can probably say I enjoyed this novel as I never had with a YA since 2013’s The Diviners..may be a little bit more-they're both totally different anyway.-
And with the uniqueness of this one I can say it's one of my best reads ever along with Harry Potter, Game of Thrones series..here is a solid 5 stars Novel..


I'll try to review without too much rant about how perfect the writing is. And I won't give away more than 25% of how the story goes to avoid any spoilers.. It's a must read really.

***************
The World, the Setting
-----------------


In an Empire rules by the Martial who came from the north and invaded the Scholars’ Empire 500 years ago.
Scholars now live as low class citizens, forbidden of knowledge, most specifically the art of making weapons..for the only army here are the Martials.
The soldiers called Masks.. the graduates from the Blackcliff, a huge dimly black Academy with the toughest military training.

And Of course there's a rebel somewhere in the Empire, some say they use the huge catacombs underground..
It's a Medieval Dystopia after all.

With a touch of..
Supernatural, History and Myth

There's a well measured use of paranormal beings here, jinn; ghosts, efrits, wraiths, and wights...they are mentioned ,maybe appear, whether they are real or not you'll learn as the story goes. Neatly and perfect.

There is no magic people capable of, the only supernatural humans here are the Augurs, the holy religious undying 14 men and women.
Fearful, holy and old as time..who can read the complex people's mind in a way.. who may predict the fate and the future.
“The whites of the Augur’s eyes are demon-red, vivid against his jet irises.
His skin stretches across the bones of his face like a tortured body on the rack. Other than his eyes, he has no more color to him than the translucent spiders that lurk in Serra’s catacombs.”

The setting is one of the things that take my breath slowly, first the idea of a catacombs was haunting with the desert and the Arabian atmosphere.
Then as I learn more about the Empires history with glimpses of the different other cultures there made me feel how rich it truly is. How deep and yet very easy written and calculated measured.
Every bit of information about this World is smoothly produced, not interrupting the story nor fall into useless rant.

-Now I rant right?, okay ..next point is.

***************
The Story
-------
Laia

gom
A seventeen years old Scholar Girl, her grandparents killed and her older brother “Darin”-and only family left- captured for his sketchbook with Weapons designs by the Martial Mask soliders.
She escaped, knowing that her brother work for the resistance, she try to search for them underground to help her and free him.
Unfortunately for her the leader “Mazen” gave her a mission in return for their help, to be sent as a Slave for the Commandant of the Blackcliff.
To Spy on her...in the fortified Blackcliff Military Academy.
Blackcliff map
Elias
el
Elias, a 20 years old Martial, almost graduating as a Mask but thinking of breaking free of all this, all this brutal world of Blackcliff and the Martials Empire..
But in the day of his graduation he’s hold back by an Augur.. the holy man, telling him that this year there's a Tournament for 4 of the year's top graduated students.
It's for a Foretold Prophecy that the line of the Emperor whose house been Emperors since the invasion 500 years ago will fail.. and the winner of the Tournament will be the New Emperor, and the second to win will be his Blood Shrike, his right hand.

And since the Augurs can read minds. The Augur promised him that if he won't escape he'll be free of Body and Soul..but if he desert his soul will be even worse than a Mask’s one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Story is really convenience, hooked me from the beginning..
No big coincidences or ridiculous ones. Even when I thought something went really easy, later I'd find out that's nothing easy as it seems.

The story told as chapter by Laia followed by one by Elias.
You won't get confused much since most of it in separated locations which make the chapters with dual narrating when they meet always fun and perfect, like in the Moon Festival scenes.


Now let's review the characters -With no more rant about the story- and some of the relations.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Laia and Elias Veturius
----------------

I don't count it as a Love story...There's a great difference between falling in love and feeling an attraction towards the one who saves you…
And this novel present it very well enough. The relation between them is really smoothly moving..again can't say love but surely an attraction.

Laia's 17 and truly feel that she is just her age..not ridiculously seems older nor a silly love sick girl.
Just a girl faces a tough times that can happen to anyone of her faction..but she must be brave..to live up for a certain past.

So is he.. he never choose to be a Mask but his past forced him..I loved how they'd met.. the small similarities between them, he wants to be Free and she's never been, and to free her brother she must to be a Slave to his Commandant..his mother..

The Commandant , Keris Veturius
-------------------------
gom
What a Dark, vicious character... how can she be the Mother of the brave kind soul of Elias is something thrillingly written.
She's dark, holding too much of secrets and even a past encounter with Laia's family.
Very powerful dark woman perfectly written and I really love this kind of characters and can't wait to know more about her.

Is she totally soulless?
There is a small scene I really loved from the past that will make you sure how people aren't totally beasts..

Helene Aquilla and Elias
-----------------
Hel
What I said about Laia and Elias doesn't fit here... and I have to say the story of Helene and Elias is one of the most beautiful hard drama love story I've read..

For fourteen years they've been friends, since they were 5, grown up together, trained and fight together.
The training of Blackcliff is tough, by the Augurs rule it's only males and only one female every long time..
Can A Long time Friendship turns to Love?
Well, sure, but how to write it...describe how the feeling can happen THAT'S the challenge..
Alas, unlike the similarities between Elias and Laia, Helene character is very different.. she's tougher, she believes in rules and have a strong faith in the Augurs way more than Elias'.
She'd get mad if knew that Elias even have a tiny thought to escape his duties and leave Blackcliff.
The bigger problem -which I rarely read it that way but I felt really close to my real life- that he doesn't feel he love her the way she does. She's a close friend, like a relative.. which really complicating everything.

There are too many secret in their relation...too many surprises and Twists of events.
I really enjoyed this character and this complicated relation with all its dark sides.

On the other side there's

Laia and Keenan
-------------

Again it's brilliantly written, at first, not as falling in love rather as an attraction towards the saver…
Keenan is a young member of the resistance.. I liked so much how through the whole story I get these mixed feelings about him. There's a mystery around the whole resistance, there's a traitor but noone know who..
You will keep thinking is he and Mazen, the old leader, are trustworthy or not.

Every character got its share of secrets you peel layer by layer..but there's some untold-at least till the end of Book One- past still to discover
Such as;

The Cook and Izzi, the Kitchen slaves
-----------------------------
Izzi is a young kitchen girl slave, the Commandant take one eye off her as a mean to make the older slave,The Cook, suffer, though the Cook herself had her share of torment for another mysterious past with the Commandant.

Izzi become a friend to Laia and though she's younger but she is a real true loyal brave friend..she help Laia whatever that may cost her…which makes her a true example of Ezzat.
While the Cook, though her brutal silence and disapproval of Izzi’s befriending with Laia.. she proves useful giving Laia doubts about the Resistance.
I really can't wait to know more about her in later books maybe.

There's some more characters simply presented, richly effective in the story and the feelings.
The Brutal Marcus and his twin who has a change of heart.. the loyal Sana..the Smith Spiro Teluman with his dark secrets... The Holy Augurs and their unfathomable twisted play...
A Nightbringer and his Horror...Afya Ara-Nur, from a far trip with mysterious role. And many many more..

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In the End
--------
History, Myth and other Fiction


Silver Masks are mentioned in many real life wars, more specifically as the Baldwin IV..the Crusaders who invade Jerusalem...
Did I told you there's an Arabian atmosphere in here?
Also the religious story of People connecting with Jinn and Efrits -such as Babylon mythology or many other.. is here has a specific story-like towards the end when you learn more about the history of the amazingly world created by Sabaa..

It's still a pure original Novel, no matter that at some points I felt that it may have hints from A Game of Thrones...More Arabian Nights or Hunger Games even the Triwizard Tournament of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire..
As I wanted to say the characters facing a ‘Wizardry Tournament’ for ‘A Game of Thrones’ in a ‘Hunger Games’ world..

But what's a Great fiction if not has hints inspired by preceding great ones..and by myths and History..

A Game of Thrones is inspired by the Real War of the Roses, and with Shakespeare plays. Harry Potter is heavy with Greek myths and mythology stories..Hunger Games is inspired by 1984 which is inspired by real life suppression in Soviet government.

The challenge here is to Emerge bigger...with own Soul, free, unique...flame of amazing tale..not just a ranting remake blending everything...but unique as a perfect crafted Amber..hot as an Ember..

An Ember in the Ashes..

Thank you Sabaa Tahir,
Can't wait for Book Two..

Mohammed Arabey
From 7 May 2016
To 14 May 2016


PS: the photos of the Actors and Actresses are from an amazing Egyptian TV Show "El Ahad" written by Mohammed Amin Radi, aired June 2015.. though it's totally different story but the atmosphere even some of the characters description and even some turn of events... it's too inspired a bit by Arabian Nights.
Sorry if the images may not fit well the description but again I used some imaginations.

A real must read.
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