An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

One of those books that makes you stay up until 1am in the morning
An Ember in the Ashes book cover

An Ember In The Ashes is one of those books that makes you stay up until 1am in the morning and it keeps you intrigued until you finish it. Critics have raved about Tahir’s book, and for a good reason.


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.

The book itself starts right from the action, there’s no prologue and that’s something that I really enjoyed. Tahir’s writing is eloquent and engaging and although some have said it was hard to get into at the beginning, I couldn’t disagree more. The tale of Laia, fighting for the ones she loves, is something we have read a great deal many times before, but the most intriguing element of Tahir’s tale are the antagonists Laia faces. Laia’s disbelief in herself and her ability to protect the ones she loves the most are elements we see in ourselves and Tahir makes it so easy to slip into Lai’s, Elia’s and Helene’s characters without much coercion needed from the reader's end. Elia’s is Laia’s other half. He is the mirror image of the person she wishes to become. Brave, couragious; a soldier who fears nothing and no one. The interaction between the two main protagonists is a web that has been weaved carefully to ensure that the story told is believable and relatable. Set against the background of the Roman Empire, An Ember in the Ashes questions the value we place on ourselves, the ability to protect the ones we love and in the end, how far are we willing to go to achieve our ultimate goals. However, forces align to break Laia’s faith and spirit, and when the time comes for Laia to face her fears, there’s only one person she can really trust to help her and that may not ultimately be the person she thought it would be. When the final test is given, Laia’s faith will be tested and friendships formed will be brought to their knees. Alliances that once existed are no more and the next steps taken are far more dangerous than either Laia or Elias imagined. 

An Ember in the Ashes is a book that you can’t put down because you become so immersed in the tale and the characters that you will stay up until 1 am the next morning.

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