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An Ember in the Ashes Hardcover – April 28, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of May 2015: If the test of a good novel is how badly you want to drop everything to finish it, then Sabaa Tahir’s debut An Ember in the Ashes gets an A+. The world she creates is rich in fantasy, coupled with echoes of a historical saga, all vividly rendered on the page. Tyrannical leaders and a building rebellion set the stage for dual narrators, Elias, one of the elite, trained from a young age to become a skilled assassin for the Commandant at Blackcliff Military Academy, and Laia, one of the oppressed, forced into the role of spy and saboteur in order to save her only remaining family member. Though diametrically opposed within their society, both Laia and Elias are wracked by internal conflict and driven to great lengths by shame and a desire to escape the bonds of their present lives. A complex relationship between them ensues, and while there is a romantic thread to the story, it is ancillary to the larger forces of political power, crippling deceit, and an undistinguished hope that endures in even the darkest corners of their brutal world. Potent action and liquid language whisk the chapters along all too quickly and while this has not been released as part of a series (yet), there can only be great things in store for author Sabaa Tahir, her Martial Empire, and her readers. -- Seira Wilson
Named one of the best books of the year by:
Barnes & Noble
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Public Library
“This novel is a harrowing, haunting reminder of what it means to be human—and how hope might be kindled in the midst of oppression and fear.” —The Washington Post
“[An Ember in the Ashes] thrusts its readers into a world marred by violence and oppression, yet does so with simple prose that can offer moments of loveliness in its clarity. This complexity makes Ember a worthy novel—and one as brave as its characters.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Sabaa Tahir spins a captivating, heart-pounding fantasy.” —Us Weekly
“An Ember in the Ashes mixes The Hunger Games with Game of Thrones...and adds a dash of Romeo and Juliet.” —The Hollywood Reporter
“Blew me away...This book is dark, complex, vivid, and romantic—expect to be completely transported.” —MTV.com
“Fast-paced, well-structured and full of twists and turns, An Ember in the Ashes is an evocative debut that has left me invested in knowing what happens next.” —NPR
“Once you get caught up in the story, it’s addictive, and there’s no way you can put it down before you figure out what happens to the characters you have fallen for over the course of the 400 some-odd pages. So I didn’t.” —Bustle
“One thing I can say for sure: this is a page-turner. There comes a moment when it's impossible to put it down. Sabaa Tahir is a strong writer, but most of all, she's a great storyteller.” —The Huffington Post
“This epic fantasy set in the Martial Empire has it all: danger and violence, secrets and lies, strong characters and forbidden romance and a touch of the supernatural.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A setting inspired by ancient Rome; a fierce battle for freedom in the face of tyranny; and a villain who makes Cersei Lannister and Dolores Umbridge look like a pair of pathetic amateurs...An Ember in the Ashes is at the top of our must-read list for 2015.” —MTV.com
“Be prepared to be blown away by this fantasy-thriller-adventure.” —Girls’ Life
“An Ember in the Ashes is a book that's too good to put down.” —RedEye
“Perfect for fans of Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races or Sarah Maas's Throne of Glass series…The book is already set to be a film, which will be EPIC!” —TeenVogue.com
* “Tahir’s deft, polished debut alternates between two very different perspectives on the same brutal world, deepening both in the contrast. In a tale brimming with political intrigue and haunted by supernatural forces, the true tension comes from watching Elias and Laia struggle to decide where their loyalties lie.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Tahir’s world-building is wonderfully detailed and the setting is an unusual one for fantasy novels. All of her characters, even minor ones, are fully realized....For fans of Game of Thrones and of Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock.” —School Library Journal
“An original, well-constructed fantasy world...truly engaging.” —Kirkus Reviews
“An epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.” —Hypable.com
“First-time novelist Tahir has written an ambitious sword-and-sand adventure story that is notable for its suspense and scope.” —Booklist
“Here's one of the year's most anticipated young-adult debuts.” —io9.com
“I was so engrossed with this book that I missed a connecting flight. If that doesn’t convince you to read An Ember in the Ashes, I don’t know what will. An explosive, heartbreaking, epic debut that will keep you glued to the pages. I hope the world’s ready for Sabaa Tahir.” —Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend
“With An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir shows us light in the darkness, hope in a world of despair, and the human spirit reaching for greatness in difficult times.” —#1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson
“An Ember in the Ashes is a spectacular page turner that asks readers to consider how far they’d go to save the ones they love. Sabaa Tahir is the next superstar in young adult fiction and her debut is as cinematic as Gladiator and as high-stakes as Game of Thrones.”—Holly Goldberg Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Counting by 7s
“A heart-pounding story of love and loss, with the most original world-building I’ve read all year. Deeply felt and deeply moving, I could not put it down.” —Margaret Stohl, New York Times bestselling co-author of Beautiful Creatures
“This electric debut is a pulse-pounding action-packed Romeo and Juliet story in a richly imagined world with a great twist and heroic characters you’ll root for and won’t stop thinking about.” —Melissa de la Cruz, New York Times bestselling author of Frozen and The Ring and the Crown
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Top Customer Reviews
I wasn’t going to read this book. I’d seen some varied reviews from friends and thought that it probably was going to have some of those YA trope in it that haven’t been working for me lately. But then I saw that Steve West was the narrator and I have a huge crush on that man’s voice so I broke down and gave it a try.
- There is the obvious benefit of Steve West being a fantastic narrator and audiobook performer. Fiona Hardingham also does a beautiful job but I’m not dreaming of having her read me stories before bed like I do with Steve I’m not stalking him I promise…mostly
- Dual PoV switching between Elias and Laia. It made the story progress a little better than it could have and was able to show two very separate and distinctive classes within the society. Also I didn’t really like most of Laia’s early chapters so it was nice to shift out of her story
- The competition to become Emperor. Yes competition tropes in YA are EVERYWHERE and I love them. There is a reason why The Goblet of Fire was my favorite Harry Potter book. But it really worked well in Elias’s story line.
***Only the greatest of our graduates are worthy, the strongest. Only four. Of these four Aspirants, one will be named the Foretold. One will swear fealty and serve as the Blood Shrike. The others will be lost, as leaves on the wind. This, too, we have seen.”***
He and best friend Helene are set to compete against each other and two of the meanest, deadliest soldiers to come out of their class.
- The Jinn mythology. It isn’t overused in YA yet and was a different and interesting addition of magic and potential mayhem to the story. There wasn’t a lot of it, but I’m hoping that in the next book we will see more of the jinn and efrits, ghuls and wraiths.
- The Commandant…we always need a bad guy/girl and she plays the part well if not a little crazily. She is the only female Mask and she is definitely the most deadly foe out there.
***“She’ll punish me. Maybe kill me. I know. But she might do that anyway if I forget to dust her room or if I look her in the eye. Living with the Commandant is like living with the Reaper***
- The Semi/Love Square – I know you are saying ’But Robin you hate love triangles’ and you are right I do. But this is the thing I liked about this particular set up. All the characters are pretty young. They are in some perilous situations and it isn’t like anyone is declaring undying devotion to anyone. Mostly it is flirting sorta feeling out your hormones and options. That click when you see someone you are attracted to and you end up looking at them or looking for them in the crowd. When it is all just possibility still and you are feeling out your options. There is only one person IN LOVE and it is a bit believable as she has been his friend most of her life. How do you know that the kiss you shared with one boy was the end all be all of kisses IF you’ve never kissed anyone else to compare it to? Had it been a better written romance where I felt like two of the people were destined to be together it might have bugged me…but as it was I liked how all the sides of the square worked out in the end.
- IZZI she was my favorite side character besides the kick butt Helene. Izzi has lived as a slave most of her life and has a missing eye from one of the Commandants punishments. But she is still a kind soul in a horrible place and I just wanted to hug her and keep her safe. I was so happy that she has a secret friendship with Laia. She was really just adorable. I loved that with all she has been through she is still such a loving person.
***“Izzi.” I touch her arm. “I’m sorry. If I’d known about the raid, I never—”
“Are you joking?” Izzi says. Her eye darts to Veturius standing behind me, and she smiles, a blaze of white that startles me with its beauty. “I wouldn’t have traded this for anything.”***
- Oh Laia I hated you for ~ 2/3rds of the book. She is a bit whiny, a victim and extremely naïve. I do get that her character had the most to grow and go through but she really didn’t grow on me for a long time.
- The rapey and brutal culture of living with the Commandant or even in the school. I get it that in the culture it would be seen as nothing to beat or rape the servant girls. Still I’m not a huge fan when this is overused in YA and honestly if I had a child under the age of 15-16 I wouldn’t necessarily want them to read it. It was brought up a lot and everyone just acted okay with it. Even Helene thought it was a normal part of life for her classmates to sometimes rape the help.
- Marcus is flat as a villain. How do we make him horrible? We make him say nasty rapey things to all the women and be a cheat looking for an easy way to kill off the competition. He was pretty two dimensional and it made him just the bad guy. But not the bad guy with his own motivations besides being bad. At least the Commandant was a little more complex. You weren’t quite sure why she hates her son so much (view spoiler) but I think she has some complex reasons. And she disfigures the attractive girls that work for her but I couldn’t decide if she thought she was helping them by being less attractive to the male students and less likely to be raped or just because she is crazy…still hard to say.
- The first half really dragged. Seriously, if I were to base my rating on the first half of the book it would most likely be a 1.5 stars. Laia made all kinds of mistakes and kept telling me how useless she was. Well yes I believed her. I’m glad she toughened up by the second half.
- I really wanted just a little more magic or stuff with the tribes to be introduced since to me that was one of the more interesting aspects to the story. Hopefully the next book will have a little more of that included.
By the end An Ember in the Ashes had a lot of potential going into the next book of the series, it just took a while to get there. There are some standard YA tropes but I’m giving a pass to most. If you have a younger reader some of the material in this is maybe to adult for the 12-14 ranges. The last quarter of the book was very good and I hope the next book can pick up and maintain that momentum.
As I close this book, I know that all these people have been through is only the beginning and I cannot wait to find out what happens next! I laughed and wanted to cry and my heart raced while reading this. This story is beautiful!
I am going to the A Torch Against The Night signing tonight and I can't wait to get my hands on book two!!! And hear what the author has to say! Sabaa Tahir, you are a goddess of a writer!
I could NOT recommend this book MORE! To anyone and everyone! Please read this book!!!!!!
Ember and I have a love-hate relationship. First, take the book entirely ignoring the romance. It's a beautifully written tale of suspense and intrigue heavily inspired by Arabic culture. Welcome to the empire, where the native Scholar people are subjugated under ruthless Martial rule. Laia is a Scholar. When her family is murdered in front of her and her brother is captured, she turns to the Scholar resistance to help free him. Their price: Laia must spy for the dangerous, vicious leader of the Martial school. Elias happens to be that woman's son. He's a brilliant warrior, but all he desires is desertion. However, he finds himself trapped in a contest to become the next emperor. The plot is engaging and twisty, with breath-holding near misses, moments of true horror, and deep friendships. And then there's the romance. I loved the attraction between Elias and Helene, and between Laia and Keenan. What I got instead was two wishy-washy love triangles that felt completely contrived and rife with insta-love. The ending is also quite cruel for a standalone. That said, the romance aside, Ember is a thrilling, cinematic book that is sure to be a 2015 favorite.
plot . 3/5
If you average the romance with the rest of the book, it comes out to about a three. The positive are, thankfully, many. Ember is an engaging game of cat-and-mouse in which Laia and Elias are a hair's breadth from death at any time. Laia navigates between the Resistance, her servant friends, and the vicious Commandant. She must find information for the Resistance so that they'll free her brother. Elias must contend with the Trials while also hiding his wishes to desert, dealing with the mysterious Augurs, and finding a balance between compassion and self-endangerment. There are many nighttime escapades, battles, and tests. The Trials themselves are a little shorter than I'd have liked, but they're certainly interesting. There's also a lot of girl power. Trigger warning: rape is a very real part of this society. Whether Tahir's use is realistic or gratuitous is a discussion for another post. Then there are the less good pieces. There are elements of the story that are too circumscribed. There's a whole magical, evil thing going on that's not at all wrapped up. Fine for a series; not so great for a standalone.
Seriously, though, you're not going to freaking do anything with the Nightbringer and the whole reason Laia goes underground in the first place!?
concept . 4/5
I'm getting a bit sick of the Rome-a-likes. It can be done very well (see Red Rising or The Winner's Curse), but it feels slapped together here. Yes, we have the big bad empire full of people with blatantly Latin names and a blatantly Latin culture. On the positive side, Tahir unflinchingly delves into the grit and horror of the empire, a facet that's often softened, especially in young adult fiction. It makes for a slave-master story that really cuts. The idea of the Trials, dangerous magical and physical games, is pretty fascinating, and fits into a fascinating broader story about the empire and its relationship with magic. On the negative side, who in the world names their people Scholars, Martials, Mariners, and Tribesmen? Seriously? These people only had one basic occupation and called themselves by that occupation in some common language? Making up names is not that hard.
characters . 4/5
Again, I loved the characters until the stupid love triangle things started. When they were separate, they were great. Laia is initially cowardly and weak; she grows over the course of the story, becoming more driven, showing her cleverness. She's also a little ruthless in service of her goal, which made me like her more. Elias is initially admirable, compassionate and obviously loved by his friends. But he uses Helene; for a best friend, he gives her no benefit of the doubt. This particularly irked me, because Helene was my favorite character. She's powerful, capable, and self-assured. She can hold her own in the ring or in a game of wits. She's fiercely loyal. She also has some uncomfortably antiquated beliefs, but you can see them being changed and challenged as the story goes on. The Commandant is another lovely character: ruthless, sadistic, but believably so. Some of Elias' friends blended together too much, but Laia's friend Izzi is delightfully sweet and brave.
style . 4/5
There were a few strange phrasings, I will say. It's odd to hear "You don't get it" or "Man up" from the mouths of people in a somewhat pre-medieval empire. Tahir could have formed her own colloquialisms to give the feel of slang without seeming too modern. That said, her prose is quite solid and frequently poetic. There's a lyrical quality to her writing that gives Ember the feel of an old heroic epic, like the thousand nights. Plot annoyances aside, the woman can truly write.
Dawn is still a blue rumor on the horizon when I limp into the commandant's chambers.
mechanics . 2/5
There's the romance. It can be largely summed up by something told to Laia: "Your heart wants Keenan, and yet your body is alight when Elias Veturius is near." Spoiler to no one: lust wins. For Elias it's similar, except Tahir is a little heavy-handed in trying to make Helene unsuitable. As Elias admits of Helene, "I'd underestimated her more than anyone." But he doesn't give her a chance to grow or to explain, and he doesn't seem to feel guilty about having abandoned her. Which makes him rather unlikable, and Laia unlikable by association--since she, also, is rather tactless in dismissing her unwanted beau. One love triangle is enough; two is disaster. I often felt like I was being tricked, prodded. "Like Laia! Dislike Helene!" As though Tahir was turning Helene and Keenan into straw people so as to sweep them more easily aside. Then Laia and Elias have about one interaction and are wholly smitten with one another; oh yeah, and all of the sudden their feelings for the others are totally gone because reasons. ...Right. Sadly, it felt like it was trying to do something that The Winner's Curse did far better.
Also, really? The vicious Commandant spares Laia's face? Obviously we couldn't like Laia if she weren't pretty.
take home message
If you can set aside the contrived romance and cumbersome love triangles, An Ember in the Ashes is an exciting, suspenseful epic with a Middle Eastern flavor.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The first 3 or so chapters were exciting. I felt like the writing was great.Read more