Series Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Series Review: Is this series worth your time? Does it get better as the novels progress? Or does it get worse? Find out below:



Synopsis for An Ember in the Ashes (from Goodreads):
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.


Series: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
# of Books: 4 (Full Reading Order Here)
Book Order: Chronological
Complete?: Yes
Genre: Young Adult, High Fantasy, Supernatural, Magic, Dystopian, Romance, Action
Heat Rating: cool *mature subject matter*
Point of View: First Person, Alternating; Multiple (#2+)
Publication Date: April 2015 – ongoing
Source & Format: Public Library–eBook; Audiobook (#2-#4)


**This post was originally published as a Fresh Friday review of the first book of the series. It has now been updated to include the newest publications in the series.**

Why I Picked it Up / My Expectations:

This book was everywhere around it’s release date but I had put it on my list in March when it was added to my library. In hindsight, it was great because High Fantasy novels have been my JAM lately and this fit the bill perfectly! But the key words that drew me in: “inspired by ancient Rome” and “spy”. Also, the promise of a forbidden romance–yes please!

So needless to say, I was really excited to read this book.

The Concept / The World:

I really liked the world this book takes place in and I’m sure I would have liked it more if I knew more about ancient Rome. I know general stuff but nothing to confirm this book has deep-rooted inspiration. Though it is important to note that the subject of rape is brought up multiple times within the book so if that makes you uncomfortable, just be aware.

The societal hierarchies were easy to follow with their Latin names but I found the supernatural elements to be VERY confusing. Confusing in the sense that I couldn’t remember what each creature did as I read because the names were in Latin and I have an awful memory. It would have been easy to rectify if I bothered to flip back in the book–though in the end it really isn’t a huge deal.

The Plot:

This book started really slowly for me. It took me a while to get into the story because the first quarter or so is used to build up the world. Which is fine, it just makes this book seem longer than it is (though it is long, even as an eBook).

But once this got going, man, I was hooked. It helps that we get to very well developed POVs. Elias’ POV is packed with action while Laia’s is more of the political side of things and in addition they each have their own plotlines. It’s almost like you have two different stories in one and the reader in me who loves lots of things going on really liked that. (Don’t worry, it’s really easy to understand what is happening and it isn’t very overwhelming!).

However, while there were some excellent mini-twists along the way, there were some points that were too predictable for me. That’s why this book is only a 4 star and not a 5 star to me because I really wasn’t WOWed by any of the plot points. Yes, those few twists we got were great and the battle scenes were hard to call; but I just felt like it was lacking that book-altering twist for me. Which is a shame, because I really enjoyed reading this book!

The Characters:

I loved Elias as soon as we met him. I just loved his personality and morals plus, I adored his friends. His POVs were easily my favourite to read about because they were so interesting and action-packed. Honestly, this book could have just been his POV and I would have been happy.

I liked Laia but she isn’t going to win any “amazing heroine awards” in this book; but at the same time, I don’t think she’s supposed to. Unlike other high fantasy heroines that I have been reading about recently, Laia isn’t prepared for the life she is thrust into in any way. She isn’t a fighter, she isn’t a rebel: she is a scared girl who makes rash decisions because she doesn’t know any better–which is so refreshing to me!  She reminds me that not all heroines are like Katniss or Celaena and that is A-OK! (Though I agree that as a reader she is hard to read about because there is a great secondary character who is like those two heroines that I think readers will/do like more). It was great to watch her grow into the independent woman she always could have been. Her passion to help her brother is her greatest strength and weakness and I can’t wait to see what happens to her in the future because of it.

The Romance:

This one is hard to review without giving too much away but I’ll give it a shot!

Normally, I’m not a fan of love triangles but I really enjoyed the interchanging ones in this book. I say interchanging because there a multiple suitors for multiple characters–and when I say ‘suitors’ I mean people who have crushes on characters but they aren’t all serious contenders in the end. What I really liked is that I don’t know who I want to “win” the main love triangle because I really like all the characters involved. But at the same time, I feel like all the possible romantic relationships need some series attention before they can be resolved–they aren’t fully developed because the romance really isn’t a huge focus of the book. It’s important but it isn’t the sole focus of the book–which is why it is hard to say who will end up with who in the end. The love triangles do their job of adding to the plot but they don’t take away from it so I really didn’t mind their presence.

My Expectations for the Rest of the Series:

I’m really excited to read the sequel to this book! This book didn’t WOW me but I really think the next one could because all the great lead-ups are there, they just need some fine tuning.


–May 9, 2019– Book #2: A Torch Against the Night

After years away from this series, I decided to read the sequels as audiobooks to get me back into it. I have to say, it was a great choice! I loved the audio performances and I think it helped keep my attention.

This book was so-so for me. Laia grates on my nerves and I can’t stand the romance with Elias. I think that’s because I could read a book featuring only Helene and be more than satisfied. I loved her story line.

There were some great twists though! And while I’m not the biggest fan of the supernatural elements, I’m warming up to the idea now that they are being elaborated on more in this novel.

–August 21, 2019– Book #3: A Reaper at the Gates

If these novels only focused on Helene, I’d be giving them 5/5 every time. I find her story fascinating and it’s everything I want in a fantasy novel: dirty politics, action and a girl giving it everything she has. I lived for her chapters.

Otherwise, this book had some pacing issues. I’d find myself a little bored in the middle. I think part of the reason is that Laia’s story just seems so run of the mill to me and we go very little from Elias near the end. And once again, I’m getting lost in all the paranormal/supernatural elements but they are starting to mesh with the story.

I honestly have no idea how this is going to end–and that has me pretty excited for the finale.

–July 8, 2021– Book #4: A Sky Beyond the Storm

I’ll start by saying: What a journey this series has been!

While I don’t count some characters as my favorite of all time (Laia), I can appreciate their evolution throughout the series. And while I didn’t love some of the fallout of the conclusion, again, I can appreciate why things had to be that way.

My Rating: 4/5

An Ember in the Ashes 4/5 | A Torch Against the Night 3/5 | A Reaper at the Gates 3/5 | A Sky Beyond the Storm 4/5


Like I said, this book was missing the WOW factor for me but I really, really enjoyed reading it! It has all the great elements needed for a high fantasy YA series that seem to build as the sequels progress.

Read if You Like: slower stories, world-building, high fantasy
Avoid if You: dislike slow stories, want more romance, don’t like supernatural elements




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