An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Discussion)

An Ember in the Ashes is the first installment in the An Ember in the Ashes series. Please note that this discussion contains spoilers! If you haven’t already, check out my review on this book, which is spoiler-free.

I gave this book a 4/5 stars. As I said in my review, I loved this book – it had aspects that were unique, characters that were well-developed, and engaging story lines.

I want to first say that the book title is amazing. I love the imagery of an ember in the ashes, and that’s exactly what some of our protagonists metaphorically were.


I loved Laia – I immediately clicked with her. I know that some readers didn’t like her that much, but I really enjoyed reading her story and hearing her train of thought. The way she was a coward at the beginning of the book was very realistic, and in a way I thought that she was brave for running away. She knew there wasn’t anything she could have done in that moment, so she escaped. However, she did nothing but try to rescue her brother since that.

Laia endured a lot when she went undercover at Blackcliff. She got branded, was beat on a regular basis, and was almost raped by Marcus. I have so much respect for her tenacity and strong will. She knew that she was there for a greater purpose, and she rarely let that weigh down on herself.


The concept of the Trials isn’t very unique, but it was still incredibly entertaining and had me on the edge of my seat. I love these life or death “tests” that a lot of young adult books have – they’re always fun to read, even when bad things happen. Oh my goodness speaking of which, I was devastated when they had to kill their own friends. That whole situation was so awful, especially since the consequences were so real. There was no way to bring the friends back to life afterwards and there was no “surprise! They were actually holograms!” No, their lifelong friends just… Died. On another note, why is it that it’s always the newly engaged or newly married man in books like this that dies?? Is that really necessary? 🙁

Although the Trials wasn’t very unique, there were other parts of the book were unique. For instance, Elias’s mom was the Commandant. A woman who’s the head leader isn’t something that’s very commonly seen in real life and books. This brings up the question of how she became the Commandant in the first place though. How is it that one of the very few women in Blackcliff became Commandant? On top of that, why is it that they only accepted one woman a year anyways? What’s the point of that?

Back to the subject of Elias’s mom, it made me sad seeing a mom who obviously didn’t care about her own son. There has to be more to this story, right? I hope we learn more about this background in the next book. I know we already got some background on this already, but I just feel like there’s something missing… Am I the only one who feels like this? Either way, the lack of a proper mother-son relationship made me really sad and made me want to coddle Elias since his own mom obviously never did.

I don’t usually like prophecies in books, but I thought the concept of the Augurs was well-written and intriguing. Even though their presence created some predictability, it was comforting knowing that worse things wouldn’t happen to our protagonists.


I didn’t like the love square at all – I thought a lot it was unrealistic and didn’t make sense. For instance, I wasn’t entirely sure why Helene was just now starting to show her feelings for Elias. It’s a bit strange, especially given that they basically grew up with each other.

I’m personally a fan of Laia and Elias as a couple. Since they’re our two main protagonists, I keep thinking it only makes sense. Therefore, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Keenan or Helene. Keenan is great as a “handler” and as someone who Laia can talk to, but I thought he was pretty forgettable on the whole. Then, there’s Helene.

Am I the only one who wasn’t very fond of Helene…? I get that she’s a strong woman and can stand up to the guys and all, but I was frustrated when she would get so easily distracted by Elias during really important times.

Anyways, I have a prediction for how the love square is going to end up later in the series. I predict that the final pairings are going to be Laia and Elias, Keenan and Izzi, and Helene and Marcus. Hear me out. I think Laia and Elias are going to end up together because, well, they’re going to be spending all of their time together in the next book. I think Keenan and Izzi are going to end up together because they’ll meet since Izzi got on the ship that Laia was supposed to get on. And yes, I think Helene and Marcus are going to get together. Towards the end of the book after Zak dies, I saw hints towards Marcus actually being a good person. Furthermore, the Augurs predicted that Helene would be Marcus’s. I have a feeling that Marcus is actually going to end up being a good person, even though he was awful in most of the first book (which sounds familiar from another popular dystopia series…). Who knows though, I could be completely off-base.


Let me know your thoughts on this book! What were some of your favorite parts? What do you want to be answered in the next book? Do you have any predictions for what’s going to happen next in the series?

26 thoughts on “An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Discussion)

  1. Morrisa

    I agree with your thoughts on the ships – but I GASPED out loud at Marcus and Helene?? I don’t want it but..your theory gives me chills. I like it

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Haha, I’m glad it makes sense at least! I don’t want it either, but I really think that Marcus was slowly made into looking like a better person after Zak died since there were a couple of scenes where he showed raw sadness which invoked empathy. I’m not entirely convinced that Elias will end up with Helene, and I’m pretty sure Helene will end up with someone eventually, so that’s the theory that I’m sticking to for now!

      1. Morrisa

        Nah its probably gonna be Laia and Elias even though I still ship Elias and Helene and love Helene sooomuch. But I can’t ever forgive Marcus for the whole Zak thing it hurts too much nope.

  2. uptilmidnight

    I’m on the fence about Helene. I mean I felt bad for her in the end, but other than that meh. I believe she only started to show her feelings because of Laia. However, I don’t quite buy Elias and Laia yet. I don’t get what they see in each other. Oh and as you know, I thought there were some things that didn’t add up. Like, why did they allow a female to live in that environment. And what makes the Commandant any different? I have more, but those are my two biggest beefs.

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      I agree that I’m not entirely sure what Elias and Laia see in each other since their relationship seems more like physical attraction and bonding over wanting to escape, but I think this is just the beginning of their relationship. I think the next book is going to grow their emotional bond. I just don’t see Elias with Helene though because Elias would keep saying how he couldn’t see her in a romantic sense, even though he was sexually attracted to her.

      I totally agree with your points about the females at Blackcliff. I also agree with what you mentioned in your review about the continuous rape threats being a bit too prevalent. I think it added to the suspense and sense of danger at the academy, but that could’ve definitely been lessened.

      1. uptilmidnight

        I can see that. I think it will take time for Elias and Laia’s relationship to deepen and grow. I don’t think Elias and Helene will happen. If anything, I see them being close friends. Maybe Helene will find someone else? Earlier someone brought up a good point, Tahir could have created a society with gender equality. Then, Helene and the Commandant roles would make sense. Even with gender equality, there still could have been rape mentions…just not to the point we had.

        1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

          My guess is that Helene will end up with Marcus since there doesn’t seem like any other likely options. Or maybe new characters will be introduced?

          I’m not sure if gender equality would’ve been viable in this book/series because of the importance on strength in the academy. Maybe it could work if the women in the book were somehow able to be as strong as, and possibly even stronger, than the men. However, since rape threats towards women were prevalent in the book, it would’ve been hard to enforce the idea of gender equality.

  3. Kellie @ Book Delights

    Awesome discussion!! I agree, the title is amazing. I didn’t really like the love square either, or the romance in general though, because I think it makes the book a little too fluffy for its premise. I’m curious about the mythical beasts though, and I hope she’ll talk about them more in the nest book. 🙂

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Thank you! Yeah, I think that some of the romance in action-packed YA books can be unnecessary, but a lot of the target audience prefers reading books with some romance. The mythical creatures mentioned in the book really were interesting! I hope the next book goes more into them too!

  4. Eve Messenger

    What a review! You know what’s kind of holding me back from reading Ember in the Ashes? I’m a little burned out on romances, and I suspect that is a big part of this story? Is it?

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Thank you! An Ember in the Ashes has a fair amount of romance, so you may want to defer it for later if you’re burned out on romances now. However, I’d highly recommend it once you’re back in the groove of reading books with some romance!

    2. Hannah Ens

      It has some romance, but I didn’t think it was any more than any other YA fantasy. Plus, the action is super hard-hitting, which might make up for it if you just skim over the romance bits. One of the grittier YA books out there, I think, Tahir doesn’t pull any punches with giving her characters impossible choices.

  5. Hannah Ens

    I love love love this book, so bear with me as I get this all out.
    I think one of the biggest reasons I like it is that none of the characters are straight-up good or bad. Marcus and the Commandant are certainly vile, but they each have a moment that makes them human (mourning Zak and nursing Elias as a baby when she intended to abandon him). About your point on gender equality, I don’t think that really fits in with the Martial society. Tahir has said she was influenced by her work as an international news editor, where she saw story after story about war zones, and areas infected with that much violence and brutality don’t typically see much gender equality.

    Small note, it’s one woman a generation at Blackcliff, not one woman a year, so Helene and the Commandant are (I think) the only living female Masks. They were chosen by the Augurs for a reason, so it makes a little more sense that they would both hold prominent places. From Ember: “The Augurs have never explained why they only choose one girl per generation for Blackcliff. Not even to Helene. Whatever the reason, it’s clear they don’t select at random. Helene might be the only girl here, but there’s a reason she’s ranked third in our class.”

    Not a fan of Keenan, thought he was kind of boring. I’m SO looking forward to seeing the Marcus/Helene dynamic, but I don’t think they’ll end up together romantically. Personally, I think they’re both too broken and will either end up dead or alone (sorry). The power imbalance between them is so severe now, with Helene bound to do whatever Marcus says in order to keep Elias alive, and it’ll be interesting if he uses that against her and makes good on his disgusting overtures.
    Whew! All done!

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      Wow, your response is extremely insightful!

      I didn’t know about Tahir’s background as an international news editor, so it’s really interesting knowing that this book was influenced by stories of war zones and violent areas. That would definitely make sense for why there wasn’t much gender equality in the book.

      Thank you for that correction! I’m not sure why I had assumed it was one woman per year instead of one woman per generation. I’m looking forward to finding out later in the series the true reason why Helene was chosen to attend Blackcliff – I mean, we already know that she’s strong and intelligent, but I have a feeling that she’s going to make a large impact, especially given the quote you provided.

      I definitely see where you’re coming from when saying Marcus and Helene are too broken. However, I’m still holding to the hope that they’ll bond and heal each other. The power imbalance is going to be dangerous for sure though, and I’m also very interested to see how that turns out.

      Thank you so much for your input! I learned things about the book and series that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m looking forward to the second book even more now!

      1. Hannah Ens

        Haha, I went a little crazy after reading Ember and hunted down every interview I could find of Tahir’s, so that’s where I picked up some of it. 🙂 It really adds depth to hear where the author draws inspiration from!

  6. amechemajj

    I didn’t particularly like this book as many people did. It wasn’t a bad book, but neither was it so amazing that I don’t know what to do with myself. I thought it was pretty okay, I couldn’t connect to anyone of the characters [not that it’s a bad thing because I understood them] however, everything was just off. The trials was emotional- but, I hate when main characters always get soft treatment and that bothers me. Izzie and Cook are scarred for life for measly things but not Laia except for being branded. I’m anticipating the second book, I’m curious. Second book have answers I’m craving for! 3.5 stars for me.

    1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles

      That’s totally fair! There have been many hyped up books in the past that I couldn’t get myself into.

      As for your point about Izzie and Cook being scarred for life for measly things and Laia only being branded, I think that’s also due to the longer amount of time Izzie and Cook were at Blackcliff. I feel like if Laia were there longer, she’d also get worse tortures. I don’t think what Laia endured was necessarily soft treatment – she got constantly berated and whipped for small things. Then again, it’s definitely plausible that Izzie and Cook got the short end of the stick.

      I’m also looking forward to the second book! There are answers that I’m looking forward to too!

  7. onceuponabookshelfblog

    Great review! I absolutely loved this book! I agree with you on the weird love square lol Thats pretty much what I wrote in my review. I thought some love lines were unnecessary and didn’t really make sense. I did like Elias and Laia tho. It may be too early to make any concrete decisions on it but I hope to see an emotional bond as well 😄

What are your thoughts?