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.
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Part One: The Raid
At the beginning of the novel, a long since orphaned Laia begins to suspect that her elder brother, Darin, is working for the Empire. Her suspicions are thwarted when a Martial Raiders come to arrest her brother, (as he was, in fact, working with the Resistance), and in the process, they murder her grandparents. Darin is arrested, and Laia flees her home and sneaks into the catacombs. She decides she needs to find and enlist the help of the Resistance. Soon after entering the catacombs, she stumbles upon a group of people that Laia assumes to be thieves, as they try to steal her armlet - a gift from her mother.
When they hear a Martial patrol approaching, everyone panicked, and in the confusion, Laia noticed one of the "thugs" had a tattoo - Izzat - meaning courage, honour, and, when the Resistance began using it as their motto, freedom.
They reluctantly decide to help her, but only after Laia reveals she is the daughter of the previous leader of the resistance, "the Lioness". In return for their help in freeing Darin, Laia must go undercover and act as a slave for the Commandant of Blackcliff Academy: Keris Veturius.
It is between each chapter of Laia's story that we meet Elias (Laia has the odd chapters, while Elias has the evens); a secretly reluctant student at Blackcliff Academy, the heir of Gens Veturia and the bastard son of the Commandant.
Part Two: The Trials
Elias, Marcus, Helene, and Zak are all selected to be aspirants for the emperor title.
Part Three: Body and Soul
An Ember in the Ashes became an instant New York Times bestseller, debuting on the young adult list at the number two spot and continuing to garner accolades since. The Huffington Post said "An Ember in the Ashes glows, burns, and smolders—as beautiful and radiant as it is searing."
Amazon named it one of the best books of May, as well as the Best Young Adult Book of 2015 and the fourth best book of the year. CNN included the book in the list of best summer beach reads.
The New York Times called it "a worthy novel—and one as brave as its characters". Mary Quattlebaum of The Washington Post, said, "This novel is a harrowing, haunting reminder of what it means to be human—and how hope might be kindled in the midst of oppression and fear."
Amal El-Mohtar of NPR said that "the threat levels are high and sharp, the characters are engaging, and the relationships between them occupy the bristling center of the sparsely decorated stage."
Marie Lu, author of New York Times bestselling Legend trilogy, said, "I was so engrossed with this book that I missed a connecting flight. If that doesn't convince you to read An Ember in the Ashes, I don't know what will. An explosive, heartbreaking, epic debut that will keep you glued to the pages. I hope the world's ready for Sabaa Tahir."
Public Radio International said, "An Ember in the Ashes" could launch Tahir into J.K Rowling territory... It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and brutality of Game of Thrones"
Film rights were optioned by Paramount Pictures in a seven-figure deal in 2014, well before the book's publication, and Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Chronicles of Narnia) has signed on to produce the film. The enthusiastic response from readers, combined with the book's out-of-the-gate success, led to the acquisition of a sequel almost immediately after its release. The sequel, entitled A Torch Against The Night, is slated for a 2016 release.
- The author, Sabaa Tahir, has commented that her inspiration for the setting of Ember was inspired by her own childhood residence in the Mojave desert, as well as the fantastical settings in the novels she has read.