Book Club: An Ember In The Ashes

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Author: Sabaa Tahir
ISBN: 978-0-00-759327-9
RRP: $27.99

An Ember In The Ashes is a fantastic debut by Sabaa Tahir, one that has caught the attention of Paramount Pictures and is already optioned. It is brave, it is bold and it is not for the faint-hearted.

This book is something very different for our book club, I don’t think we have had a fantasy title, so I think this is very exciting and I will look forward to hearing what our readers have to say about it.

The story is told from two first person perspectives in alternating chapters, and Laia and Elias have two very different perspectives. Born to different peoples of the Empire they are sworn enemies but their destinies may just be intertwined.

The Martials conquered Scholar lands half a millenia ago and have kept the Scholars downtrodden ever since. Laia has lived with fear for most of her life, fear of the Empire and fear of the Martials. She lives with her grandparents and her brother, a simple existence helping Nan with cooking and jams for the traders and learning healing from Pop. Until the night they are raided and she is the only one left of her family.

Laia runs, hoping only to survive the night and find the Resistance.

Elias is a Martial just days away from graduating Blackcliff Academy as a Mask, one of the elite Empire soldiers. The problem is Elias doesn’t want to graduate, he doesn’t want to become a Mask and he certainly doesn’t want to become an Empire killing machine. He doesn’t agree with the Empire on most things and just wants to be free from the killing and the Empire rule. This might prove to be a little difficult for the heir of one of the Empire’s leading Martial families, and only son of the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy.

Laia finds the Resistance and is given a mission, one that no-one thought she could possibly succeed in, to spy on the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy. Her time as the personal slave of the Commandant gives a great insight into what life is like for Scholar slaves, especially those who come in contact with the ice-cold and ruthless Commandant.

an ember in the ashes

This story is rife with intrigue, conspiracies and betrayal; overshadowed only by the violence. It is easy to see why Elias would want to escape this life, though it takes time to discover why he feels so differently about the situation than all of his classmates.

Blackcliff Academy is the training ground of the Masks, 6 year old children are chosen and whisked off to the Academy and if they manage to survive through all that will be expected of them they will graduate and become Masks. It is no surprise to discover, after you find out what their schooling entails, that only about half of them will survive to graduate.

What fantasy would be complete without supernatural beings foretelling the future, and in this case it’s the Augurs. They foretell the future and can read minds. They are also really good at telling the major players what they need to hear to align the characters in the best way to get the outcome they want. Their role is definitely not to watch and not interfere, they are more than willing to step in where they see the need.

Tahir’s characters are vivid and breathtaking, they push their limits and go beyond what they thought themselves capable of to finally follow their own paths.

Laia runs in the first chapter and doesn’t seem like she will ever forgive herself. She spends every second trying to make up for that decision. She had to run, we can see it and I think over time she will come to see it too. She doesn’t recognise her strength and her courage and the unwavering code that she grows into.

Elias is an interesting character, both for his parentage and his feelings for the Empire. He is faced with some horrific choices and you are never quite sure how things are going to turn out. He is complex and troubled, willing to fight for what he believes in but refuses to become a killing machine for the Empire. He is one who will always be haunted by his choices.

Fantasy tales are generally stories of epic proportions, which seems reasonable when you think of all the work that goes into world building. Tahir’s world building is sound though I would have liked a bit more fleshing out of the other two peoples, perhaps that will come later on. An Ember In The Ashes begins on the cusp of a revolution and Tahir has written it well.

Tahir has written a compelling debut that had me hooked. I look forward to reading the sequel and would not be surprised to find that this becomes at least a trilogy.

20 of our lucky readers are going to be reading An Ember In The Ashes as well so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below. Personally, I can not wait to hear what they think.

An Ember In The Ashes is available now through HarperCollins, Bookworld, Angus and Robertson and where good books are sold.

You can find Sabaa Tahir on her Website, Facebook and Twitter.


23 thoughts on “Book Club: An Ember In The Ashes

  1. I found this a little hard to adapt to in the first few chapters, absorbing into the the fantasy world and the chop n change of characters and chapters, however I stuck with it and found it to be quite enjoyable and got me hooked into the story line. Several twists and turns about conquering fears,being heroes etc. The main characters could follow their journey well. I really became engrossed into these separate wolrds by the end. I would recommend even if fantasy not your thing. Thank you

  2. This book has left me reeling as its just so different to any other book I have ever read, at times harrowing and haunting. It’s a complex story of ­a vicious empire that has conquered several cultures, including the once learned Scholars. The three main characters Laia, Elias and Helene are born into a world of extreme violence. A violence so harsh I’m amazed that anyone could survive it. The author keeps you on your toes with her many twists and turns. It’s a great book that takes the mind to a place of fantasy. Its both thought provoking and heart-wrenching. The author Sabaa Tahir certainly bought the characters to life and has now made me a keen reader of fantasy books. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next edition. I would thoroughly recommend this book to all readers. A most enjoyable read,

  3. Thank you Beauty & Lace for allowing me to read and review this awesome book – An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.
    This read brought up a heap of different emotions in me and is a story I’ll probably never forget – it kind of ‘stamps’ itself into your heart and memory. I felt anger and rage inside me brew quite a few times, an intense passionate anger that I only get when I am confronted with events I really despise and feel strongly about, like women being treated as lesser beings, and their rights not cared for.
    The book follows the lives of Elias and Laia, and is told in first person from each of these characters, so I felt I got to know and understand them better as I was in their thoughts/in their mind. They come from completely different lives, Laia lives the subservient life as a Scholar, which is the lower class in the eyes of the Empire. The Empire, with the help of the Masks (which are the elite soldiers that work for the Empire) took over the continent and enslaved thousands of Scholars – Laia losing her parents and Sister throughout the ordeal. Elias, on the other hand, is in training and has been for the past 14 years, to become one of the elite soldiers, a Mask.
    One night the Empire raids the home of Laia, where she lives with her Grandparents and brother, Darin. Darin has something the Martials want…..something in a sketchbook…..which Laia has thrown out a window in haste as she tried to hide the book for Darin. The Grandparents force Darin and Laia out the back door in hopes of escaping. But a Mask is waiting at the back gate for them, taking Darin away, they imprison him.
    Laia has nowhere else to turn but to go to the people that Darin was working for, The Resistance, to try and get help to free her brother. But The Resistance want something in return, they want Laia to become a spy, by working for the Commandant as a slave girl. The Commandant being a very cruel, cold and heartless person.
    It is here at Blackcliffe, the military school, where Laia meets Elias and their paths collide as fate would have it. Elias despises the life he lives and the things he has seen and desperately wants out. So together Laia and Elias work to help each other.
    There’s a hint of a love triangle happening but not too much focus is actually placed on the romance factor in this story…I was secretly hoping for more to happen….but this wanting kept me reading.
    The whole story is rather dark and is chock a block full of pillaging, rape, brutality and evil, sometimes a little too much where the females are concerned. The author Sabaa Tahir has an excellent writing style and I found the book easy to read from the very first page. A very engaging and talented author and I am actually going to google this book and see if there’s a sequel because it ended in quite a cliffhanger and left me with many questions unanswered. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good read that contains a bit of everything.

  4. Quite enjoyed this book though not the sort of thing I would normally read, but entered to win it as it sounded quite a mystery/thriller – which it was. It seemed to be a kind of ancient Rome type of story, transported into a world in the future.

    Liked Elias, his Mother was sure pretty mean & awful (a bit similar to some women bosses that I have unfortunately worked with!!) often women like his Mother are a lot worse than some men in positions of too much power. Wondering who will Elias father be? – perhaps he is kinder than his Mother? we can only hope so.

    Was somewhat disappointed that Elias & Laia never ended up freeing her brother Darin, guess that will happen in a sequel, the ending seemed to be rushed too much & left several loose ends.

    Helene annoyed me, she seemed to care about Elias, but often left him in the lurch so to speak & plotted against her own son. The Masks were a mean lot you wouldn’t want to meet at all.

    Thought it could be made into a movie as there would be plenty of action & futuristic scenes.

    Was happy with the bigger size print, much better than too small size, & print was dark enough, not printed in a gray colour like some books are now.

    I’d give it 4 stars as it wasn’t the sort of book that left you bored at all.

    Thank your to Beauty & Lace for sending me this Book.

  5. We seem to be having an issue today so please allow me to post this comment on behalf of Tara Parish:
    First-I did enjoy the book, I was drawn it at first and my mind made comparisons with Hunger Games, and Terry Pratchet characters-not sure why. The tale evolves and some characters you want to slap, some you like and some you hate-I think in a book an emotion drawn from you shows good writing, it mean you care about the characters enough to have an opinion and care whether they are safe or not. the book lost me a bit in the middle, perhaps with the change of perspective, and there are some tough bits, and then regained me as I travelled on. There is an edge to the writing which is refreshing-Looking forward to the next one!

  6. It took me a little while to get the hang of the world, and alternating chapter but it was worth the read

    An Ember in the Ashes is a powerful story it has a number of moral dilemmas, the distinction between loyalty and thinking for yourself, the meaning of freedom and the subjectivity of “right” and “wrong”.
    the two main characters are

    Laia, a17 year old girl, from the enslaved Scholars tribe. Laia has lost all her family apart from her older brother Darin, who has been imprisoned by the Martials Laia went to the Resistance movement to seek help in freeing Darin and they would only help her if she agreed to go to the Academy working as a slave to the Commandant, spying on her and reporting back to the Resistance any news that would help them in their fight against the Empire.

    Elias, is a 20 year old member of the ruling elite, and, as well as being the Commandant’s son, is the star pupil of the Blackcliff Military Academy where he has been training since 6 years old.
    He is just days away from graduating as a Mask, but doesn’t want to become one of the Empire’s killing machines and has been planning to escape that way of life, but if caught trying to escape would be killed.

    The world in An Ember in the Ashes is dark and brutal. Defiance is met with death. Those who do not pledge their blood and bodies to the Martial Empire risk having their loved ones murdered and their lives destroyed. the interlaced stories of the two main characters Laia and Elias emerge.

  7. I absolutely loved An Ember in the Ashes.I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a day.

    The book starts from the perspective of Laia as she introduced you to a dangerous and deeply disturbing world. Laia’s growth in the book from a shy, slightly sheltered 17 year old girl to a brave, determined member of of the resistance is unraveled within the book.

    Similar through the perspective of Elias a reluctant member and trainee of the ruling military elite and mask clan, reveals a fascinating and even more disturbing context.

    I loved the alternating perspectives in the book and some parts where not for the faint of heart with high levels of violence and excellent sub plots throughout the book, there was never a point where I was bored and was constantly guessing what was going to happen next.

    The one thing that I did not particularly like was the dual love interests of the Elias and Laia and it created somewhat of a love square, with the feelings for each love interest relatively unclear even after the book ended.

    I loved the interactions between Elias and Laia as the began to form a friendship and the decisions made and risks taken definitely kept me on my toes.

    I really hope there is a sequel as the ending left so many questions unanswered.

  8. Fantasy isn’t my favourite genre but I was determined to be fair and give it a go. I’m glad I did. I really enjoyed the storyline and found myself making comparisons to The Hunger Games. I liked the intertwining storylines and the way the characters get involved in an effort to overthrow the empire. I wasn’t a fan of the violence though or the references to rape, and would only recommend this book to much older teens.
    Congratulations to the author on her debut novel, Thank you Beauty and Lace for giving me the opportunity to read this book.

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