May 11, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

Intended Age-Group: 16+
Issues of Violence: torture, attempted rape, fantasy violence, 
Intimacy Level: Passionate kissing
Language: d*mn, h*ll, b*st*rd (moderate language)
Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Back Cover Blurb:
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 solider -- 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.w 

Initial Reaction: ***** to describe An Ember in the Ashes? It's like Equilibrium meets Gladiator...meets fantasy.

I loved this book.

The World: *****
The world is unique from the very start. I don't know about you, but I sure haven't read many fantasy Roman-era type books. Now, don't get me wrong. It's not set in the Roman Era from Bible times, it simply feels that way, just like most epic fantasies feel like they've been set in King Arthur's knights-and-sorcery time. This world is fascinating, filled with myths and trials and different classes of people. I was sucked in from the first page.

Characters: *****
Two main characters, both told in first person POV. I never got confused, in fact I barely even noticed it.

Elias Veturius is a Mask who's questioning his commitment to the Empire. Laia is a cowardly Scholar who abandoned her brother to certain death, and now is determined to be brave and save him. These characters grow incredibly through this story. Thinking back to who they were when I started the story, it's almost hard to imagine them that way anymore. The way each character grows through the circumstances is very natural and admirable.

I connected more to Elias than Laia. Sometimes I had a difficult time understanding why the men in the story found her so appealing, other than her natural good looks. I know that plays an important part, especially in a culture where looks are really what influence most of the mens' decisions, but on occasion it had me quirking an eyebrow and wondering, "Really? Him, too?" Thankfully, it wasn't overdone.

Plot: *****
Depth, depth, depth. That's what makes a solid plot, especially a solid fantasy plot. An Ember in the Ashes has that. The culture and plot are so intricate and yet not confusing. Because of that, I felt immersed in the world, taking sides and cheering for who I thought I could trust. There are no cardboard "good guys" or "bad guys". Everyone has their mixture of good intentions and bad choices, which makes each people group seem real.

Language, Violence, and that Other Stuff:
The language is typical, what you'd expect from a military-like culture. It's consistent, but not overbearing. I have a hard time actually noticing swearing so there's probably a bit more than I remember, but it doesn't get too over-the-top.

The violence is...well...fairly graphic. As I read, I wondered if I'd be able to stomach certain scenes if this book ever turned into a movie (which, gathering from the rumors, is highly likely to happen.) It teetered on the edge of my tolerance level, so if you're not one for battle violence or cruelty from evil leaders, this may not be the book for you.

Sexual innuendos are scattered throughout. The "Masks" of this culture are the high-up protectors of the Empire and they are known for taking what they want. Not only is there a lot of talk about rape, but when in the servants' points-of-view there is a lot of fear of it. It's a very sad predicament, which makes the gentlemen of the story stand out as even more heroic.
There is brief kissing and passion, but nothing that ever goes past kissing.

Spiritual Content: *****
There are jinns and sorcerers, ghost-like beings and myths. It is all very fascinating and makes for a rich culture, but the author certainly isn't sending any overall spiritual message. The story doesn't lean one way or another. I read it solely for the sake of skilled storytelling.

An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books I couldn't put down. It creeps into my dreams. I don't want to read anything else for weeks afterward. It makes me want to write better. Those are the experiences every reader craves and it's become more and more difficult for me to find books that bring that depth and experience to a read.

The story concludes with just enough strings tied up, though there's no "confirmed" sequel. However, the author has expressed hoping to write one, so I'm crossing my fingers. :)

Despite the harshness of the content, I'm still giving the book a high rating because it's a tome of originality joining the ranks of powerful fantasy. As long as it stays within its intended age group (16+) I think it should be okay.

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Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, released September 2014 from Enclave Publishing. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at

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