An Ember in the Ashes – Sabaa Tahir


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.


So, so good. I’m not usually a high-fantasy person (can’t usually suspend my disbelief that long, and all the weird names normally annoy me), but I was a huge fan of this book. I expected the military/training to take up most of the story, as most of these “first-in-a-series” books do. Instead, it set itself up so perfectly for the following book (which is definitely not going to be a bridge!). It’s super political, and I love it.

There’s kind of a love square, which is annoying. I really liked the dead-end couples, unfortunately. I mean, it’s obvious who’s meant to end up together. Oh well.

This book has a lot of philosophical notes to it. Free will vs determinism is a HUGE theme, and it’s so interesting to watch it play out. There’s philosophy of education, moral obligation, and much more. Existentialism as well—is life meaningful? Are we in an endless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth? Religion and mythology is big as well. There are different groups (set up NATURALLY, not with some societal/governmental decision to split into different ideologies), which were realistic as well. Many were based off of the same ideas of supernatural, which makes you believe in the improbable.

I don’t like the Commandant, and no soliloquy will change my mind. But gosh, I love pretty much everyone else.

Related Reading

  • Red Rising – Pierce Brown
  • Divergent – Veronica Roth
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Rating: 5/5


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