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.

Foil detailing on the dust jackets and naked hardcovers, stencil sprayed edges, signed by the author, bonus art print.

This is the only hardcover release with this cover design.

  • Publish Date 11 February 2021 (first published 28 April 2015)
  • Publish Status Unknown
  • Publish Country GB
  • Publisher HarperCollins Publishers
  • Imprint HarperVoyager


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What is worse than living in a Roman Empire-ish land? Living in a Roman Empire-ish land alone, your grandparents having been killed in front of you, and your brother possibly soon dead too. Having to make a deal in which you spy the nastiest woman to ever walk the earth just so your brother might have a shot at being saved, while you are continously on alert because of the whipping, the threat of rape, and discovery.

Talk about high stakes.

And that's just Laia.

No, seriously, An Ember in the Ashes is packed with super high stakes, suspense, conflict, tension... Every crap a good story needs when there are no kisses. Because that was the only thing that this thing was missing. More kisses.

Which brings me to the topic of romance. 'Romance' isn't exactly how I'd describe the mess of feelings bouncing off Laia, Elias, Helene, (Keenan?) +. Let's just leave it at attraction. And that's just fine, because in this situation, the page time alloted to attraction was less than I'm used to, but perfect for this kind of story. It's just not realistic that while your neck is on the line, you're daydreaming about the hot soldier boy, or the cute, but intense redhead.

The descriptions of battle, specially one very hardcore one, were completely awesome! They were raw, and as the killing blows piled up, I even teared up a bit.
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, bbut it's still there.

Towards the end, even though the pace didn't let up, it did made room for character development, tons of it actually. And that was wonderful. The end left me with a lot of unanswered questions, because, if you think about it, not much was wrapped up in terms of the plot plot. It seemed to me that the end was so character focused, that the other things to be ressolved were put on wait.

But that's not such a bad thing!

I just mention it because after I closed the book, feeling I'd just read something really good, and went about my day... I then realized that most of the goals the characters had started with weren't achieved. And what the hell? How did I not notice that before?

So, trust me, the revelations these characters have about themselves are definitely worth it! It was exactly the character aspect that moved me the most and made me give the book the rating I think it deserves. Yay!

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Initial Thoughts: Interesting story, but a bunch of people seem to be being evil just for undisclosed reasons or no reason at all. A lot of the characters could have benefited from more back story. Maybe some will show up as the series progresses, but it's really something that should have been included in book 1--especially if this book was at some point intended to be a standalone.

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Mackenzie 4 of 5 stars
You can't have traversed the book blogosphere recently without having seen An Ember in the Ashes. This book was met with such love that there was even a campaign for the name of the fandom. A campaign for a fandom name. That's dedication though I'm not sure how I feel about the name.

When I saw it, it seemed right up my alley. A Roman-esque world that promised violence, rebellion, politics, and wonderful characters trying to find their own. But all the hype became daunting. I started eagerly and I loved it. However, I wasn't getting the OMGAHHHHHHLOVEIT feeling everyone else seem to be getting.

Until the end. Then I got the hype. From the first page to the second trial (the first half to 3/4 of the book), I enjoyed it but I wasn't transfixed. Then the third trial began and BAM! I couldn't put it down.

So, I've decided to write this review in 2 parts. The first part being my "I'm enjoying it, but not necessarily blown away". The second part being the "OMG I GET THE HYPPEEEEEE"! Sorry (not really) this is going to be a LONG review.

Part 1: Enjoying it, but not blown away

I really liked it. It starts off with a bang and it's perfectly enjoyable. The promise of a revolution, the Romanesque inspired world, the trials, and the school of deadly assassins all promised awesomeness. Seriously, though, when Blackcliff was introduced, I knew I'd love it. Seriously, that place is truly insane which is obviously why I loved it. The brutality, the violence, the cruelty made for such an intriguing concept. It was brilliant and utterly terrifying.

The problem is, I'm also very character driven. From the very beginning I loved Helen and Elias. Both are the typical soldier type I adore, but it was their loyalty to each other and the compassion (though sometimes hard to find) that drew me to them.

My problem lay with Laia. She's incredibly determined and loyal to her family which are two qualities I absolutely love. But the fact that she constantly (and I mean constantly) compared herself to her "brave" mother and how the voice in her head was always in her brother Darrin's voice really grated on my nerves. Also, she had a lot of luck on her side which irks me.

Oh, but there is a MAP! I love maps.

However, there is also a weird love....square-like object? I don't know. You have Keenen and Laia (also, all I can think of is Princess Leia from Star Wars and it bugs the crap out of me), Helene and Elias, and Elias and Laia. I was not feeling Keenen and Laia. He was like super stoic and I thought it'd be like an awesome hate turned love but it just fell flat. He did a total 180 in like no time flat. Elias and Helen on the other hand would've been totally adorable (if you can call two fierce warriors adorable). There is such depth and friendship there and I TOTALLY SHIP THAT SHIP. Too bad Laia had to go and sink that ship though Elias didn't help things any. Helene + Elias = SHIPPPPPP!

But looking back, my biggest issue is the lack of depth. I felt like this book could have been really a beautiful and cruelly fantastic world with a rich culture and political strife and emotionally/morally torn characters. But this really affected me during the first two trials. They could've been emotionally gut-wrenching and action packed, but everything just felt....glossed over, I guess? Like it was so close but just not there. For one, for all of Elias' supposed military prowess, he really didn't show it. And I don't feel like there was really a conclusion to the first trial and the second trial was so lacking in detail that I was so confused as to what was happening.

But then comes the third trial.....

Part 2: Now I understand the hype

It's basically like 3/4 of the way through the book the author all of a sudden hit her stride and just. didn't. stop. To me, it felt almost like a separate book.

Remember how my biggest issues were characters and lack of depth? The last quarter blew those out of the water. All of a sudden BAM! Crap starts going down and it gets all emotional and LWKEFJOWIEFJWOEF! Those feelings I was missing out on totally hit me in the face. I couldn't put it down.

During the last quarter of the book there was just so much depth . From the characters, from their actions, from their thoughts and beliefs. They were tested beyond comprehension and it was beautiful and heart-breaking. The courage, honor, self-sacrificing, and all-around integrity to be found in these characters made my heart surge. Such strength and good character. All of the characters go through such heart-breaking and determining events. Brilliant and gut-wrenching, their passions and dedication and honor are laid bare.

Though Laia constantly doubted herself at the beginning, I loved her dedication and determination. But by the end, she comes fully into herself showing us all that she can be and it is powerful. She's got such a caring heart, but she becomes just so much more.

And Elias. Oh, Elias. I love him. I really do, from the very beginning. But he becomes so much more by the end. He is so loyal and compassionate. He has to go through some unbearable trials (#3 tore my heart out and put it through a meat grinder). He has to make the hard decisions and do what needs to be done and determine what it truly means to be free. That compassion does not equate to weakness and that finding something worth fighting for is an honorable thing.

And Helene. Even though she is has unwavering faith in this brutal empire, I loved her loyalty to her country (even if it was undeserved). Though she and Elias go through hard times, they are each other's rocks in this brutal world and I adored them for it. She could be cold and harsh, but did what needed to be done. Let's face it, she was really the only reason Elias lasted as long as he did. And by the end, you get to see her true character and how much she really cares for Elias.

Even the secondary characters were worth getting behind. All of the Masks could be brutal and violent, it's how they were raised. But the loyalty and brotherhood between them was always there (I'm a sucker for that brotherhood stuff). And Izzi and Cook, bless their hearts, were just wonderful. Cook could be brusque and unflinching, but truly caring. And Izzi was just such a sweetheart with a quiet sort of courage. Keenen was the only character that I feel was never truly fleshed out or was lacking in some way for as much page time as he had.

And the Commandant. She wasn't just cruel, she's sadistic. I absolutely loathed her and every moment of page time made me cringe. The world they lived in was brutally militaristic, but she was the absolute worst. And we finally get glimpses as to why and it's both heartbreaking and sickening (she's got some serious problems, okay?).

And GAH just everything happens in the last quarter of this book! So many trials and tribulations. So much heart is shown. Loyalty and friendships are tested. And just the depth of character that is shown in the end. The ultimate decisions and actions of these characters make this book what is truly is. Much of the depth I loved so much can be found in the character motivation and ultimately, their actions. These characters are tested, often in the most brutal of ways. But such trying times reveals true character. do I really feel?

Okay, that was long. Super long sorry. Basically it comes down to this: the first 1/2 to 3/4 was good. It was enjoyable and interesting and the militaristic school kept me intrigued and loved Helene and Elias. I was totally and still am shipping Helene and Elias (SHIPPPPP). However, I wasn't head over heels for it. Laia got on my nerves, I wasn't shipping any of her romances, and everything felt sort of glossed over. Then the last 1/4 came and blew that crap out of the water. Finally the emotionally gut-wrenching stuff happened and the brutality really showed the characters strengths and THIS IS WHAT I WAS PROMISED! Also, the luck I complained about with Laia made sense. Sure, the plot still could've been far more complex and in-depth than it was, but I'm also a character girl and by the end, I loved all of them.

This book is definitely worth reading. But I'd lower your expectation if they are super high. Even though this book really came into it's own at the end (character-wise), it definitely could've been more in-depth from the beginning. Despite this, this is a book that'll stay with you long after you finish. Definitely a fantastic start to a fantastic series.

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cornerfolds 5 of 5 stars

Every once in a blue moon I'll take a chance on a book without really knowing much about it. Sure, I saw An Ember in the Ashes around A LOT before it actually came out. In fact, I may have posted it for a WoW one week. But I have mad skills when it comes to not actually paying attention to what I'm looking at. When I saw An Ember in the Ashes on the shelf in early May, I grabbed it up before I could really see what I was getting myself into. Because, really, that cover is TO DIE FOR. Once I started reading, though, I knew I had made a really good decision.

This book is honestly a little out of my reading comfort zone. I don't read very much high fantasty or historical fiction and, while this is classified as Dystopia and High Fantasy, it's based quite heavily on Ancient Rome and had a historical fiction feel to it. The setting kind of reminded me of The Winner's Curse in that I couldn't really place it exactly. Sabaa Tahir really did a great job of mashing up different cultures with fantasy and making something totally unique. I feel like there's just so much to say about this book, but I'll try to keep it manageable...

The characters in An Ember in the Ashes were really something special. There are no Mary Sues here. At least I didn't think so. Laia is a Scholar - one of a community of people who is constantly suppressed by the Empire because of a long-ago war. Immediately, her world is torn apart by one of the Masks, a heavily trained soldier who has been bred for violence and hate. From chapter one Laia is forced to make difficult decisions that show her true character, and it isn't one that is necessarily immediately likable. Laia is very hard on herself throughout the book and lacks self-confidence, though this is understandable as her backstory is uncovered. She turned out to be a character I really ended up feeling strongly about as the book progressed.

Elias is the other main character in the book. He is a Mask in training, getting ready to graduate when the book begins. Unlike the other Masks (and his mother, who is the Commandant of the school), he fights against the nature that they are raised to embrace. He does not want to be a killer and plans to leave the school even though his life is at risk. This plan is quickly thwarted, however, and Elias spends the majority of the book trying not to become like the people he despises. Following Elias through this book was absolutely heart-wrenching. The decisions he had to make were absolutely unreal. I loved him from page one and he was really the one character that kept me up late into the night. The secondary characters in his story were so freaking good, and I ended up so attached to so many of them that it really didn't work out great for me...

While romance does have a place in the story, it is very secondary to the main plot. There was actually kind of a love square, with both Laia and Elias already having other possible interests before meeting. This did not detract from the story in any way though and was a very minor point.

I've already touched briefly on the world that's presented in An Ember in the Ashes, and... just WOW! This world is so amazing and real and I felt like I could see every place the characters were. I have come to absolutely adore books with maps because they help me to get into the setting - and this book had two! One of the entire world (country?) and one of the school itself. Sabaa Tahir is an amazing world builder, that's for sure!

Finally, let me say a few words about the plot of this book. It.Was.Heartbreaking. From the opening chapter, I just could not understand the absolute despair every character in this book was faced with. As the book went on I actually started to dread each new trial they faced, not wanting to see what terrible thing could come out of it. I think I can honestly say this is the first book that actually left me with an actual PAINED HEART on multiple occasions. Um... ow. But that's what made it so good! I felt for every single one of these characters. There were times when I didn't think I could even go on and I was just reading it! And then the ending just killed me! How am I supposed to wait a whole year for book two?

---In Closing---
I would seriously recommend An Ember in the Ashes to basically everyone. I feel like it's a book that has something for lovers of multiple genres. And it will make you FEEL! Seriously, everyone go out and buy a copy so we can cry about the year-long wait together.

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I love a good dystopian, it is what drew me to the young adult genre and when I saw reviews for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir I was excited about the promise of a roman-world with violence, oppression and dual narratives. When an opportunity to review the audio presented itself, I dove headfirst. I am so glad that I did. An Ember in the Ashes was beautifully written and executed.

The first in An Ember in the Ashes series, Tahir brings us a roman like world filled with gladiator type military schools, slaves and an oppressed society ruled by violence and fear. The author did an excellent job of bringing the world to life from the impressive academy to the slums.

Dual perspectives give us both sides of the story. Elias is a solider at the academy who dreams of freedom and an escape from the violence that rules his life. He unwittingly finds himself competing to be the next Martial emperor. Laia is a Scholar, living under the control of the emperor, but when her brother is arrested and her grandparents murdered, she soon finds herself working undecover in hopes of freeing her brother. The chapters alternate between the two and I immediately became wrapped up in their stories. Laia is an unlikely hero, in fact if given a choice she would be in hiding, but it is her love for her brother that drives her and her transformation alone was worth the ride.

Tahir delivers a dark tale that touches on the darker side of war, and the sacrifices on both sides. The emperor faction is dark and blood thirsty, with political maneuvering and quests for power. Scholars and slaves are treated like commodities in this quest. In the middle of it, all we have a rebel group. The Revolutionist, and learn that Laia has ties to them; she uses that connection to aid her brother.

What strengthened this novel and gave it its heart were the protagonists. Both are struggling and see tremendous growth and enlightenment throughout the story. The tale is surprisingly romance free although seeds have been planted. I loved these little teasers they gave a little hope to all the darkness. I thought a triangle was in the making, but with one line, Tahir squelched that and I was delighted. An Ember in the Ashes is dark and falls on the higher end of young adult genre making it a great crossover novel.

Fiona Hardingham and Steve West did a splendid job with the narration allowing us to feel Laia’s and Elias’s internal struggles, fear and growth. The choice to use two narrators was a good one and I hope these two continue the series.

Audio provided by publisher. This review was originally posted at Caffeinated Book Reviewer

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Kelly 5 of 5 stars
My review for An Ember in The Ashes is one of the most difficult I've felt expressing. When you absolutely adore a book so deeply, that you're left lost for words. From the world building, to the characters, even the romance and just when you think you've read it all.

Told in dual points of view, Laia is a Scholar, a girl who lives to make ends meet for her grandparents, since the death of her parents some years ago. Her brother leaves for hours at a time, taking his sketch book in the middle of the night and bringing the Empire raid in his wake. The Legionaries spare no mercy, capturing Darin in the raid and forcing Laia to flee. With a deadly Mask hunting her, she has no choice but to heed the warning of her late parents and seek the aid of the underground Resistance. But their assistance comes at a price.

Elias is an elite soldier in training, expected to fulfill his role as a brutal Mask upon the completion of graduation. But Elias has other plans. He wants to escape, to free himself of his mother's cold and calculating reign over Blackcliff, his internal struggle against needless killing not going unnoticed by his peers. Before Elias can escape, he's chosen as an Aspirant for the trials to determine who will be the next leader. Three tests that decide the victor. But Elias isn't the bloodthirsty monster his mother is, or his grandfather expects him to be.

Two world collide when Laia is brought to Blackcliff, a lowly house slave with fire in her eyes and a determination that Elias sees in himself. It was glorious! The romance takes a backseat to the oppression and darkness of their world as the two form a tentative friendship. It mixes a dystopian society with fantasy and a touch of the brutality of the Roman and Greek empires with the battle of intelligence against arms. The world building was immaculate, from the wary streets of the Scholars, to the darkness that surrounds the Academy, it was so incredibly vivid and set the scene for an enslaved and oppressed society. The intensity was delicious, the characters well developed and although set in a world so far removed from modern day society, they were crafted to be likable and relatable. The secondary characters were distinct and Sabaa Tahir was able to weave in their individuality, where so many young adult books seem to skim over.

It was utterly stunning! It instilled in me a sense of righteousness, I wasn't only immersed, but felt as though I was placed in the action. I loved it. Every. Single. Moment.

Read. It.
An Ember in The Ashes isn't a book you borrow, it's a book you need to own and read it again and again. This isn't yet another fantasy slash dystopian, it's immaculate. It'll have you completely immersed and torn between wanting to savoir the storyline and flying through the pages demanding to know where Sabaa Tahir will take the reader next. I loved it. I adored it. And now I'm hungry for more.

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Amber 4 of 5 stars
An Ember in the Ashes completely hooked me with that synopsis. After hearing about a book set in a Rome-like world, I had my eyes set on it and I waited eagerly for its release. I’m happy to say that An Ember in the Ashes didn’t disappoint.

My favourite thing about the book was the world building. I’m a giant sucker for anything related to ancient history, and Ancient Rome is one of my favourite things ever. An Ember in the Ashes didn’t disappoint in terms of the fantasy world in which it is set. There are Martials, an Emperor, terrible laws, a segregated society… everything I wanted. The only thing I could have wished for is more. More of everything, please.

The pacing was also fantastic. An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books that you don’t realise you’re flying through until you reach the end. You could pick this one up anywhere and get hooked into the story straight away. It was such a thrilling read and I couldn’t put it down for long.

The characters weren’t, in my opinion, particularly stand-out, although they were good enough. An Ember in the Ashes is told from two points of view: Laia’s and Elias’. Laia is a girl whose brother has been taken by Martials, and in order to get him back she has to become a slave and spy on the Commandant. This is where she meets Elias, a young man who’s training to become a Mask – one of the elite. What Laia has to go through during this book is sad and, at times, horrific. I felt so sorry for her, but I loved that she kept a strong mind and stuck to what she needed to do.

As for Elias, I connected with him a lot less than I did with Laia. He’s not exactly a spoilt brat, but he’s a favourite at the Academy and this makes his life slightly easier. That said, he does have a complicated childhood and I feel a bit sorry for the guy. But overall he was just an okay character that I didn’t mind reading about, but I didn’t love either.

I’m really looking forward to the recently announced sequel (you took your sweet time, Penguin) because I want to see more of this world and the powers that the characters are just discovering. Everything has changed after that ending, so I’m interested to see where this series goes next. While An Ember in the Ashes wasn’t quite the story of revolution that I was expecting, I’m hoping the series gets more intense and in-depth as it goes on.

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shannonmiz 4 of 5 stars
This review was originally posted on It Starts at Midnight
This is a hard book to review. Mostly because I am scared of spoilers, which is why I am not fully reviewing it, but I shall just tell you some things you might want to know:

This world is hell. Seriously, you don't want to live here. You don't want to vacation here. Hell, I'd be suspicious of a postcard from here, for fear it'd shank me itself. It's brutal, and no one is safe.
That said, it becomes very important in such a world to know someone's true essence, and I enjoyed seeing that from all the characters in this book- main and side characters alike.
It started off just a bit slow for me, but then when things get going... they do not stop.
The romantic aspect is sparse but messy. And I think I ship the "wrong" couple, which will kind of destroy me down the line, I am sure. I just don't feel the chemistry with the other couple. Maybe that'll change!
The writing was stunning. I think it helps when you have a very rough setting to have beautiful writing to offset it, and this was no exception.
Overall? I really liked it, and despite a few flaws, I found myself deeply invested. Bring on book 2!

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Beth C. 5 of 5 stars
Laia - Her parents were instrumental in the Resistance against the Martials, until they were killed. She and her brother now live with their grandparents...until the day they too are killed, and her brother taken prisoner. With no one else to turn to, Laia tries to find the resistance to help - and ends up a slave to the bloodthirsty Commandant at the most feared military academy in the Empire. As she concentrates on staying alive, unknowingly becomes a catalyst in helping one unwilling soldier, Elias, decide to take a stand.

Ember is told from the alternating viewpoints of both Laia and Elias, and it's done very well. Both characters are well-written and realistic. Laia doesn't just suddenly become a ninja and destroy what she hates, and Elias continues to battle his own demons - but along the way, they learn who they are and grow as characters, just as a real person would. Even those in the book who are less-than-pleasant are not written as one-dimensional "bad" characters, but have their own human impulses and reasonings for what they do.

Tahir has written an excellent novel, and I'm guessing (hoping?) that it is the first in a series. I couldn't find anything to verify that, but it's perfectly plausible. This is the first novel in quite some time that I read within a couple of days, staying up far too late both nights in order to do so. I look forward to reading more from this new author, and particularly if it carries me further into the land and the people that make up "An Ember in the Ashes".

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jnikkir 3 of 5 stars
This review can also be found at my blog, There were books involved...


If I had to choose two words to describe An Ember in the Ashes, they'd be: compelling and intense.

The good thing about both of those words is that I don't think they're really positive or negative on their own. Something can be compelling or intense without being enjoyable, right? I usually use those words as a positive thing, true, but I have to use them in a more neutral way when describing Ember, because that's how it felt for me. Compelling, intense -- but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say Ember was hugely enjoyable, for me.

There were elements I thought were very well done, though. Namely, the worldbuilding, the writing, and (for the most part) the main characters.

The Worldbuilding

The worldbuilding was a bit basic, with the Martials (the military types) having taken control of the city/nation where the Scholars (you guessed it, scholarly types) used to be in power. But it was still very believable and interesting. The Scholars have been totally conquered, except for some pockets of resistance. The Martials keep their power by training elite fighters at a super horrible military academy, run by a sadistic commandant who does not have a single good bone in her body. (Seriously, I like villains, but this woman was terrifying. In a not-entertaining sort of way.) The world was great, though, because it was gritty, interesting, very well-fleshed-out and detailed; and I could clearly see the Roman inspiration, which I always like.

The Writing

Sabaa Tahir's writing is really solid, as well, and often beautiful. I would honestly not have pegged this as a debut if I hadn't known it was. Tahir has a way with words that, once you're into the story, serves to keep you pinned there, and it often offers an interestingly beautiful counterpoint to the brutality of the world. I think the writing was part of the reason I found this book so compelling and easy to get lost in, despite its brutality.

The Main Characters

After her grandparents are killed in a raid on their house, Laia is saved by her brother, but he's taken captive by the Martials as a result. Laia's only purpose is to save him in return. He's all she has left, and you feel that desperation from her, that drive for her to hold onto someone she cares about and can't lose.

Elias has been a student at Blackwell Military Academy since he was 6 years old, and he's finally nearing graduation -- and freedom. He's hated the school from the start, and only wants to graduate so he can escape and finally be free from it. But something happens, and he's forced to stay and participate in four brutal trials that will determine the next Emperor. He goes through some horrific things, but somehow always finds the will to carry on, which I liked.

Laia and Elias are both complex, easy to sympathize with, and are driven by goals that seem too huge by far, but are the sorts of things you just need them to succeed at. I had absolutely no problem cheering for them and hoping they'd succeed, even when things were at their bleakest.


All those things I mentioned above -- those are the reasons I totally understand why people are loving this book. It's compelling, it's easy to root for the main characters, and honestly, Ember is just super intense and really gripping. However... I had issues. Mainly with certain things that the characters are forced into.

Because, you see...

This book really upset me.

Up until a certain point, the violence and brutality of this world didn't bother me. It's super brutal and "gritty," yes, probably more than what's seen in a lot of YA -- but it didn't cross many lines that I had a huge problem with. ...Until a certain scene.

There are things that I can handle a main character doing, and things that I can handle when a main character is forced to do something, like when he's forced to choose the lesser of two evils... But there's something that a character is forced to do, about 2/3rds of the way into Ember, that I just... I don't even have words for it. It's horrific. It is not something I wanted to read, it is not something I wanted this character to have to deal with, and it really, genuinely angered me. It was so bad that I felt sick reading it, and I cannot understand how this character was able to move past what they did / what they were forced to do. And it's not that I'm upset over a bad thing happening in a book -- I'm used to books causing pain, I like pain, feels are wonderful -- but I am not okay with this situation happening at all in this book. I felt like it wasn't even a choice between bad and worse, it was a choice of equally horrible things, and this character made a choice that required them to do a horrible thing, and I am not okay with that. It felt like something done for the sake of being horrible, and just... nope. I did not like it.

Ugh, I'm sorry. I could get into more details, but they'd be super spoilery.

But also...

The love triangles were unnecessary.

(When are they ever NOT?)

There's Laia and Elias, who are our main couple, just judging by the synopsis above -- but, we really don't get that sense until a significant way into the book, after we also meet Laia and Elias's other love interests.

For Laia, there's Keenan, a red-headed rebel Scholar fighting against the Martials. And for Elias, there's Helene, Elias's fellow student and the only girl at Blackcliff Military Academy.

Helene, thankfully, is a well-developed character. She's Elias's best friend, but even so, she's not immune to Blackcliff's ideals and notions of their superiority to the Scholars. Keenan, on the other hand, wasn't very well-developed at all. I really got the feeling he was there just to serve two purposes: one, to be Laia's contact with the Rebels; and two, to be Laia's Other Love Interest. Because she never interacted with him enough for me to believe her feelings for him.

And it was the same with Elias. Other than Elias looking out for Laia in a few ways (which rarely involved much time spent with Laia), she had no reason (or time) to fall for him. And apparently Elias has more feelings for Laia than he does for his best friend whom he grew up with and constantly moons over (Helene). Maybe this was to show how Elias's mind worked, how he would lust over Helene but not do anything about it (though they came close), but he had different sorts of "truer" feelings for Laia...? That's all well and good, but when his feelings for Laia were based on so little, it really doesn't give me any sort of confidence at all in the relationship.

In conclusion...

DO YOU SEE WHY I AM SO TORN ABOUT THIS BOOK?! I just... There was so much going for it. Individually, the characters were great. I had no problem getting engrossed in this world and this story, and the writing was fantastic. It was a very intense sort of read. But throw in a situation that angered me so much, and the awful love triangles... and I am one very confused reader.

After mulling over this for weeks (literally, weeks -- I cannot stop thinking about this book), I think I will probably read the sequel (if there is one), because the things that I didn't like about Ember should be fixed in the second book, and I'm really curious about what will happen to these characters.

However, even after all my pondering, I am still torn about a rating. I definitely wouldn't call my personal experience with the book "enjoyable", but it was good, but it upset me, but... but... but...


Final rating: 3 - 3.5


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