HomeAll postsEmber in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Ember in the AshesA review by Nalini Haynes

Laia was born into the Scholar caste, a downtrodden caste suffering random and not-so-random searches, torture and death at the hands of the Masks. The Masks are a cross between a military group, secret service and torturers.

Elias, the unwanted son of the Masks’ commander, prepares to flee his future as a Mask just after graduation.

Laia’s grandparents who cared for her since her parents’ deaths are killed during a raid and her brother is taken prisoner. She uses her magical powers (she’s a human compass) to find the resistance. Although she’s the daughter of iconic resistance leaders, the resistance demands that she spy on the Commander for them, assuming the role of servant although the Commander mutilates her servants within their first few weeks of servitude and often drives them to suicide. If she doesn’t have them killed first.

The Commander is an albino-type who is unremittingly evil, a caricature of a villain. However, Tahir gets a free pass on the albino-type as one of the good guys is also an albino-type. No-one gets a free pass for two-dimensional villains, though.

A careful reader will observe a spiderweb of cracks in the plot. For example, Laia becomes a slave whose every movement is monitored and every minute must be accounted for but she goes to the market whenever she pleases to meet with the resistance. Laia’s slave uniform is a black dress; she has no other clothes or possessions other than her mother’s pin that she conceals from body searches during her induction. When she’s told to put a colored scarf over her hair as a signal, no-one considers how she will procure such an item. When she sneaks out at night via an unguarded (?!) path, she wears a different dress so she can’t be identified as a slave.

Elias is the chosen one called to become emperor but he’s more interested in fleeing the Masks and hooking up with Slave Laia, even brushing off a woman who is his peer and his best friend.

There’s a Tri-Wizard Tournament — I mean a competition to determine who will be emperor. The winner becomes emperor and the runner-up becomes the emperor’s hand. Everyone else dies. Add to this faction-fighting, cheating and arrogance and you have a cauldron — a barracks? — full of trouble.

Ember in the Ashes is part of the current wave of novels featuring international intrigue extending from a caste-based society with at least one protagonist from the “untouchable” caste. Ember in the Ashes is an enjoyable read currently in development to be released as a movie in 2017 (according to IMDB).

  • Rating: full starfull starfull starfull starEmpty star 4 out of 5 stars
  • ISBN: 9780007593286
  • ISBN 10: 0007593287
  • Imprint: Harper Voyager (HarperCollins)
  • On Sale: 06/04/2015
  • Pages: 464
  • List Price: 16.42 USD
  • BIC1: Fiction & related items / Fantasy
  • BISAC1: FICTION / Fantasy / General


Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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