An Ember in the Ashes (Ember Quartet, #1)

by Sabaa Tahir

4.23 of 5 stars 44 ratings • 20 reviews • 92 shelved
Book cover for An Ember in the Ashes

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An Ember in the Ashes (Ember Quartet, #1)

by Sabaa Tahir

4.23 of 5 stars 44 ratings • 20 reviews • 92 shelved

'Keeps one reading long after the lights should have been out' ROBIN HOBB

Read the explosive New York Times bestselling debut that's captivated readers worldwide. Set to be a major motion picture, An Ember in the Ashes is the book everyone is talking about.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death.

When Laia's grandparents are brutally murdered and her brother arrested for treason by the empire, the only people she has left to turn to are the rebels.

But in exchange for their help in saving her brother, they demand that Laia spy on the ruthless Commandant of Blackcliff, the Empire's greatest military academy. Should she fail it's more than her brother's freedom at risk . . . Laia's very life is at stake.

There, she meets Elias, the academy's finest soldier. But 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.

  • ISBN13 9780008108427
  • Publish Date 11 February 2016 (first published 28 April 2015)
  • Publish Status Active
  • Publish Country GB
  • Publisher HarperCollins Publishers Inc
  • Imprint HarperCollins
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 464
  • Language English


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This book is so well-loved. It’s one of the few that my friends who read have strongly recommended to me… friends outside the blogosphere. Here in the book blogging world, An Ember in the Ashes is so beloved and highly suggested. I was sure it was going to have incredible characters and so much adventure and that I was going to love it. I never thought for a moment I would feel otherwise.

I feel otherwise now.

I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry guys… but I just couldn’t to get into it. I’ve had this book on my TBR for a while, and I’ve had the audiobook on hold through the library for over 6 months. I was really looking forward to it and I came at it with an open heart, so ready to love it. But honestly? It didn’t connect. I was bored. On many different levels.

The writing felt so stiff to me, with a lot of the emotions being stated instead of felt. This bled into every aspect of the book, from the characterization to the action sequences to the setting. It brought the pace down to a crawl and even though I sped up my narration, I still felt like it was dragging. I could only listen to about an hour at a time, because I found myself fading off, bored and indifferent. I’m an avid audiobook listener – this almost never happens to me. I never felt this world come to life, and it’s such a shame.

Maybe if the characters were a little more… I don’t know… alive? Relatable? Round? I would like this more. It felt like something was missing at the core of them, that they were words on a page and nothing more. I stopped caring about Laia shortly after her introduction. Laia had no personality to me – a lot of words about how she couldn’t do something, and then she does it effortlessly. She went through pain, but didn’t suffer for long enough to make it believable. And there’s a few different scenes where someone comes to Laia’s aid and it just didn’t make sense to me – the instant loyalty or the forgiveness.

Elias started with more promise. He had established relationships with those around him and an established place in the world. His backstory stuck to him a little better than Laia’s (not a lot better, though). Furthermore, he had drive and motivation that fit in with his character profile for me. At first. But after a while, Elias began to grate on me – everything he did was gratuitous and his survival in the continuing challenges didn’t make sense. By all rights, Elias should have died several times, I think. Or, at least, had people turn strongly against him. There are a few moments where he is almost likable, where a relationship almost appears with another, but these weren’t strong enough to make me feel the loss in the trials.

And don’t get started with my feelings about the friendship/relationship/something between Elias and Helene. I have issues. Helene started out as a great character, the strongest in the book, and it was just torn asunder to make way for Elias, creating another completely unnecessary and uninteresting romantic arc in a book full of them. I was so disappointed by this choice – I felt like it tore Helene’s character to shreds to make her such a doting puppy.

So… yeah. I have feelings about the characters.

The most basic outline of the plot is interesting. I really liked the idea of the trails, even though I felt like the world building reason for them was super flimsy. Laia’s desire to rescue the only family she had left is admirable, but her character growth arc was too easy and effortless to give the situation as much gravitas as it perhaps deserved. I still want to like the story, but I can’t get past how much I didn’t like it.

And I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I still intend to read the hardcopy of this book. I have a paperback I got a couple summers ago and I’m determined that my dislike here was just because of the audiobook or the narrators or something. I did find myself getting frustrated with them, particularly the pronunciation of Laia (I kept hearing “liar” and it threw me) and some of Steve West’s pauses in Elias’ narration. Which flabbergasts me, honestly, because I loved his reading of Strange the Dreamer. I’m so befuddled by how little I liked this well-loved book that I’m willing to give it another chance.

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Leah 5 of 5 stars
So this was fantastic. I’ve been waiting and waiting to read this book because I know it’s a quartet but with book three around the corner, I could hold out no longer.

I loved the writing, I felt like I was properly in the story and I’m really intrigued to see what the rebellions have up their sleeve, if they even come back.

I’m intrigued to see more of Helene, too. Yes, this book is about Elias and Laia, but Helene is such an integral part to Elias’s life, and you could feel just how much they relied on each other.

I absolutely loved Laia - what she goes through in a bid to save her brother was heroic, especially the nasty stuff the Commandant did just for the hell of it or minor infractions.

I cannot wait to read book two, there is tons left to explore in this world and it’ll be interesting to see the aftermath of everything Laia and especially Elias went through because some of those trials were downright sadistic.

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Ashley 4 of 5 stars
Loved it! I have to admit, the beginning didn't totally grab me. But the last quarter of the book was AMAZEBALLS! It was devastatingly sad but had me totally hooked.

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WOW!!! I cannot wait to read the next one, though I'm going to have to for my library hold to come through. :(

I'll be back with a review as soon as I can.

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Austine (NovelKnight) 4 of 5 stars
The Empire is not to be toyed with in this epic fantasy of soldiering Masks, prophecies, and creatures from legends. An Ember in the Ashes tells the alternating stories of Laia, a young Scholar woman seeking a way to save her brother, and Elias, a soon-to-be Mask with a destiny far beyond his imagining. As time goes on, their lives become impossibly twined until the fate of one may determine that of the other.

I devoured this book. Back and forth, I flipped between the minds of Laia and Elias as a 500-year-old prophecy unfolds with a much deadlier force than either expected. Tahir spun a world of order, rebellion, and magic long suppressed. While much of this book exists in Blackcliff Academy where Elias trains (and parts of the surrounding city) I'm excited to see outside the academy and what the rest of the world is like. You learn a lot despite the limited location but the Empire definitely has more secrets to be told.

Written in first person, it's hard to ignore the characters and I definitely had my favorites. To be honest, I really wasn't a fan of Laia until near the end. She spends the majority of the book lamenting her brother's fate and falling into the rebellion web. It defined her character completely but also became a tad monotonous. I preferred Elias who had a lot going on in his head but a healthy skepticism (perhaps more relatable for me). His destiny is so large and there were too many secrets left uncovered. I need to know what happens to Elias.

And of course there's a romance of sorts. I expected it from the start upon reading the first two chapters simply because of who the characters were. Perhaps that's a bit of conditioning from the young adult genre coming into play but I wasn't wrong. What I didn't expect was Helene. And by that I mean I ship Elias and Helene hardcore.  I have a feeling I'll be disappointed for my OTP but I stand by it. Laia can have her red-headed rebel but I think Helene needs a novella or something. I didn't always agree with her actions but she quickly became my favorite female character. Keris, the Commandant, also made the list (yes, I like my antagonists, thank you very much).

There are so many supporting characters from each of the Scholar and Martial worlds that I'm surprised this is only one of 2 books (fingers crossed for spin-offs!). But I do hope to see Tahir explore the supernatural side of the world more. For the last third or so of Ember there are several creatures mentioned, and one in particular who is going to play a bigger role in book 2 I'm sure. And with Helene's secret thrown in the mix, just give me ALL the magic.

I adored this book and definitely need the sequel now. There is so much left unsaid, so many uncertainties. I need to know what happened to Elias (and Laia, I suppose), and Helene! She's such a kickass character, she needs a happy ending. An absolute must-read for YA fantasy lovers.

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liz089 5 of 5 stars
Really liked this book, so full of action and a great plot. It was such a clever story with great characters ! Can't wait to get started on the next one :)

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littleread1 5 of 5 stars
I just re-listened to this in anticipation of book 2, which I have coming in the mail any day. I was hoping to time it just right but I didn't as nothing came in the mail today. I AM DYING. I need book 2 like I need pizza. (And I ALWAYS need pizza)

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Stephanie 4 of 5 stars
I really liked this book EXCEPT for the very (obviously) forced romantic plot. And here are some MINOR spoilers, because lbr—did you really think the two main characters wouldn't get together? I am not against it, I can see that it would EVENTUALLY happen, but the events of this book didn't warrant them kissing and probably would have made me like Laia more.

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Silvara 3 of 5 stars
Check out my other reviews, discussions and link ups at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon.

I loved the world and all the twists and turns in the book! It shifted from Laia's point of view to Elias and back, but always in a way that wasn't confusing and easy to understand.

I really liked how strong Laia was, even when she thought she wasn't. She grew a lot from the scared girl we first met, into a woman who was able to see her mother in herself. I also loved reading about Elias. How he presented multiple faces to the world depending on who he was with and what role he had to play.

I wasn't as attached to Helene. I liked her sometimes and didn't like her others. Her personality made sense based on the world and how she'd been raised. But she was too inflexible about things, rules were made to be followed, but there's also a certain flexibility at times. And while she occasionally bent them because of Elias, you got the sense that she wasn't happy about it. On the other hand, she was a strong character with a fiery personality especially when she was angry. She struggled a lot with her choices, and with the strengths and weaknesses she had, she felt like a real person.

I'm not sure what you'd call the love angles in the book. It wasn't a triangle really, but it was complicated. I could tell who the girl was going to pick, but I'm not sure if that was just because I liked him better! *laughs* I had no idea who one of the guys was going to pick, it felt one way, but since it was a story, I figured it could just as easily have gone the other way. (And I'm not using names because I don't want to slip and spoil anyone!)

There is a lot of evil and dark moments in the book. The Commandant has no redeeming qualities what so ever. She's the kind of evil character you keep hoping something even nastier is going to come by and have her for a snack. The school and instructors are just as bad in their own ways. There is torture, child abuse, threats of rape and needless and cruel killings.

But there are also sweet moments. A slow burn and fall into love. Best friends who have each others backs. A friendship in dark times, and lots and lots of hope.

I also liked the fantasy creatures that appeared in the book. There weren't a lot of them, but they fit the plot perfectly. If only the magic had been addressed more. You have magic metal that melds with people's faces like a second skin. The power to heal with a song, and of course the magical creatures that appear. But very little is explained about the magic. Not even where it comes from or why it seems so absent from most of the world. There's a tiny little blurb of explanation about it in the book, but it was such a small blip I've already forgotten what the explanation was. And even while reading about that, it wasn't enough to really explain.

I did like the book over all, and I want to read the second one already to see what happens next!

This review was originally posted on Fantasy of the Silver Dragon