An Ember in the Ashes.

Position:Book review - Young adult review

young adult



An Ember in the Ashes

By Sabaa Tahir


Sabaa Tahir, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, grew up in the Mojave Desert and attended UCLA before working for the Washington Post. An Ember in the Ashes, her debut novel, has already hit the New York Times young adult best seller list and has had the film rights optioned; a sequel is scheduled for 2016.

THE STORY: For 500 years, the Martial Empire (resembling an ancient Rome) has ruled its land with an iron fist and subjugated several ethnic groups, including the once learned Scholars, through the skill of the Masks, imperial soldiers trained at the Blackcliff Military Academy. Just as a new Emperor is to be chosen from among the Masks at the academy through a series of competitions, Laia, a slave and Scholar, works with the Resistance to try to free her brother, arrested for treason, by becoming a slave and a spy at Blackcliff. Meanwhile, Elias, a high-standing Mask trained as an assassin, wishes to escape the tyranny of Blackcliff and fight his way to freedom. When Laia and Elias--neither free, though at opposite poles of society--cross paths, their destinies and that of the Empire will change forever.

Razorbill. 464 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 9781595148032

Alice Marvels ****

"I had such an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and fear for Elias and Laia as the story went on--I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if every single character I loved died by the end of the book.... The Commandant is one of the most terrifying sociopaths I've ever read about, and I love that she is a woman."

Huffington Post ****

"[W]hat sets this fantasy world apart is the introduction of middle-eastern influences: the scent of spices, the date and apricot trees, the mirror embroideries in the women's skirts, the glass lanterns, the lattice screens.... The story is complex, encompassing political scheming, betrayal, and supernatural forces, and the different threads entwine effectively." LAURA M. BELL

NY Times Book Review ****

"There's a duality at work in An Ember in the Ashes: The novel thrusts its readers into a world marred by violence and oppression, yet does so with simple prose that can offer moments of loveliness in its clarity. This complexity makes Ember a worthy novel--and one as brave as its characters." MARIE RUTKOSKI

Red Eye Chicago ****

"[Tahir] resists the urge to get bogged down in pages-long explanations of all...

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