Review of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Laia from Ember in the Ashes, depicting her with olive skin and dark curly hair, dressed in simple clothing. Her expression conveys determination and resilience, standing in a dimly lit, ancient Roman-like alleyway, symbolizing her hidden strength in a world of oppression.

Review of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes Book Cover“An Ember in the Ashes,” written by Sabaa Tahir, is a novel that has captivated a wide audience with its unique blend of fantasy and dystopian elements. It stands out for its vivid world-building and complex character development. In this review, I will delve into the various facets of the book, examining its plot, characters, thematic depth, and style, providing a comprehensive overview for both potential readers and those interested in a deeper analysis.

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Plot Summary

The story of “An Ember in the Ashes” is set in a harsh, unforgiving world, inspired by ancient Rome, where the Martial Empire rules with an iron fist. The plot revolves around two main characters, Laia and Elias, whose paths intertwine in unexpected ways.

Laia, a Scholar living under the oppressive rule of the Martials, finds her life upended when her brother is arrested for treason. Desperate to save him, she turns to the rebels, who send her on a dangerous mission to spy within the Empire’s premier military academy, Blackcliff. Laia’s character embodies resilience and determination as she navigates a world of danger and deception.

Elias, on the other hand, is an elite soldier at Blackcliff, but one who internally struggles with the cruelty and brutality he is expected to embody. His narrative explores themes of identity, morality, and the cost of obedience. Elias’s character is a study in contrasts, torn between duty and his deep-seated desire for freedom.

Their stories converge at Blackcliff, where they both face trials that test their limits and force them to confront who they truly are and what they stand for. The plot is marked by intense action, political intrigue, and a hint of romance, making it a riveting read from start to finish.

About the Characters of An Ember in the Ashes

Laia from Ember in the Ashes, depicting her with olive skin and dark curly hair, dressed in simple clothing. Her expression conveys determination and resilience, standing in a dimly lit, ancient Roman-like alleyway, symbolizing her hidden strength in a world of oppression.Laia:

  • Physical Description: Laia has olive skin, dark curly hair, and is often described as having a quiet beauty. Her attire is simple, reflecting her Scholar heritage and the life of subjugation her people endure.
  • Role in the Story: Laia is a Scholar, part of an oppressed class under the Martial Empire. The story begins with her living a life of fear and subjugation. Her journey commences when her brother is arrested for treason, propelling her into the heart of the resistance against the Empire. Laia’s role evolves from a frightened girl to a courageous spy and rebel, showcasing her resilience and determination.
  • Character Development: Throughout the story, Laia faces numerous challenges that test her strength and resolve. She grows from a timid, unsure individual into a strong, determined character, willing to take great risks for her loved ones and her beliefs.


Elias, shown as a young man with light brown skin and short dark hair, wearing a black military uniform. He stands in a stone courtyard with a conflicted expression, embodying his internal struggle between his duty as a soldier and his desire for freedom, set against the backdrop of a brutal, militaristic academy.Elias Veturius:

  • Physical Description: Elias is described as tall and well-built with light brown skin and striking eyes. He has an aura of both strength and conflict, evident in his demeanor.
  • Role in the Story: Elias serves as one of the finest soldiers of the Martial Empire, training at the Blackcliff Military Academy. Despite his elite status, he is deeply conflicted about the brutal methods and oppressive nature of the Empire. Elias’s journey is one of inner conflict and moral questioning, as he struggles to reconcile his duty as a soldier with his desire for freedom and justice.
  • Character Development: Elias’s character arc is significant, moving from a skilled but unwilling soldier to a young man actively questioning and fighting against the injustices of his world. His evolution is marked by difficult choices that challenge his understanding of right and wrong, duty and freedom.

Helene Aquilla:

  • Physical Description: Helene, a fellow student at Blackcliff and Elias’s close friend, is known for her blonde hair and strong, battle-ready physique. She embodies the Martial ideal in appearance and skill.
  • Role in the Story: Helene, as the only female student at Blackcliff and Elias’s best friend, plays a crucial role. She is torn between her loyalty to Elias and her duty to the Empire. Her perspective provides insight into the life of a high-ranking Martial, showcasing the internal struggles faced by those within the Empire’s elite.
  • Character Development: Helene’s journey involves grappling with her feelings for Elias, her loyalty to the Empire, and her own sense of morality. Her character portrays the challenges of upholding one’s duty while confronting personal emotions and ethical dilemmas.

setting of An Ember in the Ashes, depicting an ancient Roman-like city under a tyrannical regime. The scene features grand stone buildings and a large, oppressive fortress, creating a tense and foreboding atmosphere. This reflects the struggle for freedom and survival under the Martial Empire's rule, a central theme of the story.Commandant Keris Veturia:

  • Physical Description: The Commandant is a striking woman, known for her cold beauty and sharp features. She exudes an air of menace and control.
  • Role in the Story: As the ruthless leader of Blackcliff Academy and Elias’s mother, the Commandant is a primary antagonist. Her character embodies the cruelty and merciless nature of the Martial regime. She is a complex villain, whose interactions with Elias add depth to the narrative, especially regarding the themes of power, corruption, and familial conflict.
  • Character Development: Although the Commandant does not undergo a significant transformation, her backstory and motivations are gradually revealed, offering a deeper understanding of her character and the factors that drive her merciless nature.

In-depth Analysis


  1. World-Building: Tahir’s creation of the Martial Empire is a standout feature. The setting is richly detailed, drawing inspiration from ancient Rome, which adds a sense of realism and brutality to the story.
  2. Character Development: The protagonists, Laia and Elias, are well-crafted with deep internal conflicts and evolving personalities. Their growth throughout the novel is both believable and compelling.
  3. Plot Pacing and Structure: The narrative is fast-paced, with multiple plot twists that keep the reader engaged. The alternating perspectives between Laia and Elias provide a balanced view of the world and its complexities.


  1. Predictability in Some Plot Twists: While many twists are well-executed, a few can be seen coming, which might detract from the suspense for some readers.
  2. Underdeveloped Side Characters: Some of the secondary characters lack depth and backstory, which could have added more richness to the narrative.

Uniqueness: The novel’s blending of a dystopian society with an ancient Roman-like setting is unique. The harshness of the Martial Empire, juxtaposed with the protagonists’ moral dilemmas, sets this book apart from typical fantasy novels.

Literary Devices: Tahir effectively uses foreshadowing, vivid imagery, and first-person narrative to build tension and develop characters. The use of alternating perspectives is a key device that enriches the storytelling.

Relation to Broader Issues: Themes of oppression, resistance, and the struggle for freedom resonate with broader historical and contemporary issues. The novel also explores the moral complexities of rebellion and the cost of survival in a tyrannical society.


Potential Audiences: Fans of fantasy, young adult literature, and stories with rich world-building and complex characters will find “An Ember in the Ashes” particularly appealing.

Comparisons with Similar Works: The book can be compared to “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins for its themes of oppression and resistance, and to “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard for its fantasy elements and societal divisions.

Final Recommendations: “An Ember in the Ashes” is highly recommended for readers seeking a thought-provoking, action-packed fantasy novel with strong characters and a unique setting.

Thematic Analysis

The novel delves into themes such as:

  • Oppression and Freedom: The struggle against a tyrannical regime is central to the story.
  • Morality and Choice: Characters often face moral dilemmas, highlighting the gray areas in decisions of right and wrong.
  • Identity and Belonging: Both Laia and Elias struggle with their identities and where they belong in their world.

Book Bibliographic Details

  • Author: Sabaa Tahir
  • Title: An Ember in the Ashes
  • Publisher: Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House
  • Publication Date: April 28, 2015
  • Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-1595148032 (Hardcover), 978-1595148049 (Paperback)
  • Pages: 464 (Hardcover edition), 446 (Paperback edition)
  • Formats Available: Hardcover, Paperback, E-book, Audiobook
  • Language: English

Awards and Recognition for An Ember in the Ashes:

One of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time
One of Time Magazine’s 100 Best YA Books of All Time
Instant New York Times bestseller
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir
Amazon’s Best Young Adult Book of 2015
People’s Choice Award winner – Favorite Fantasy
Bustle’s Best Young Adult Book of 2015

Other Review of An Ember in the Ashes

“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 could launch Sabaa Tahir into JK Rowling territory…It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”–Public Radio International

An Ember in the Ashes glows, burns, and smolders–as beautiful and radiant as it is searing.”Huffington Post

“A worthy novel – and one as brave as its characters.” —The New York Times Book Review


About the Author, Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa Tahir is an American author best known for her “An Ember in the Ashes” series, a widely acclaimed young adult fantasy series. Here’s an overview of her background and career:

  1. Early Life and Education:
    • Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. This unique setting played a significant role in shaping her creative imagination.
    • She is of Pakistani descent, which has influenced her perspective and enriched her storytelling with diverse cultural elements.
    • Tahir attended UCLA, where she graduated with a degree in English.
  2. Career Beginnings:
    • Before becoming a full-time author, Tahir worked at ‘The Washington Post’ as an editor in the foreign news department.
    • Her experience in journalism honed her writing skills and exposed her to a range of stories and issues, which later influenced her fiction writing.
  3. “An Ember in the Ashes” Series:
    • Tahir debuted as a novelist with “An Ember in the Ashes” in 2015. The book was an immediate success, critically acclaimed and popular among readers.
    • The series includes sequels like “A Torch Against the Night,” “A Reaper at the Gates,” and “A Sky Beyond the Storm.”
    • It is known for its intricate world-building, complex characters, and themes of oppression, resistance, and morality, drawing inspiration from ancient Rome and Tahir’s own cultural heritage.
  4. Writing Style and Themes:
    • Tahir’s writing is celebrated for its vivid descriptions, emotional depth, and fast-paced, gripping narratives.
    • Her work often explores themes of freedom, loyalty, and the struggle against tyranny, resonating with a wide range of readers, especially young adults.
  5. Impact and Recognition:
    • Tahir has been lauded for contributing to the diversity in young adult literature.
    • Her books have received numerous accolades and have been listed on bestseller lists, including The New York Times.
  6. Personal Life:
    • Sabaa Tahir is known to be quite private about her personal life, but she occasionally shares insights into her writing process and inspirations through social media and author interviews.
  7. Future Projects:
    • While Tahir is most famous for her “An Ember in the Ashes” series, readers and critics alike eagerly anticipate future projects and novels from her, expecting them to be just as engaging and innovative.

Sabaa Tahir’s journey from a journalist to a bestselling author is as inspiring as her novels. Her unique blend of cultural perspectives, coupled with her talent for storytelling, makes her a significant figure in contemporary young adult literature.

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