An Ember in the Ashes

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An Ember in the Ashes
An Ember in the Ashes book cover.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorSabaa Tahir
Cover artistEmily Osborne[1]
CountryUnited States
SeriesAn Ember in the Ashes
GenreYoung adult, fantasy
Publication date
April 28, 2015
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback), audiobook, e-book
LC ClassPZ7.1.T33 Em 2015[2]
Followed byA Torch Against the Night 

An Ember in the Ashes is a fantasy novel written by Pakistani-American author Sabaa Tahir. It was published on April 28, 2015 by Razorbill,[3][4][5] an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is the first book in the An Ember in the Ashes series, followed by A Torch Against the Night. In a fantasy world inspired by Ancient Rome, the story follows a girl named Laia spying for rebels against the reigning empire in exchange for their help in rescuing her captive brother; and a boy named Elias struggling to free himself from being an enforcer of a tyrannical regime.[6] The novel is narrated in the first-person, alternating between the points of view of Laia and Elias.

The book is a New York Times, USA Today and international bestseller.[7][8][9] International translation rights have been sold in 30 countries as of October 2015.[10]


A Scholar girl by the name of Laia lives in the Martial Empire with her grandparents and brother Darin in the city of Serra. Their existence is a grueling one as they are seen as second-class citizens by the ruling Martial elite. Darin is arrested by Martial forces and accused of being an anti-Empire rebel. Laia seeks out the help of the anti-Empire Resistance group, and agrees to infiltrate an infamous military school for them if they help her break her brother free from prison.

At the school, called Blackcliff Academy, Laia meets a student named Elias Veturius. Elias is also a Point-of-view character in the book. Along with his best friend Helene Aquilla and his two rivals Marcus and Zak Farrar, he has been chosen to take the Trials, a series of tests that will decide who the next ruler of the Empire is. But Elias has no wish to take the tests, or be ruler. He wants to escape the Empire.

When Elias meets Laia, the two realize that their destinies are more intertwined than they could have ever dreamed.


Five hundred years ago, a warrior named Taius lead the Martial clans to take over the Scholar Empire. He named himself Emperor and established his dynasty. He was called the Masked One, for the unearthly silver mask he wore to scare his enemies. His legends live on in Blackcliff Academy, a school built "to prepare and identify the future Emperor, Blackcliff is now a training ground for the Empire’s deadliest soldiers—the silver-faced Masks."[11]


Scholars – The Scholars are a race of oppressed individuals who once ruled the land that has since been occupied by the Martial Empire. Many Scholars are enslaved by the Martials, and those who are not enslaved live a difficult, poverty-stricken life. The Resistance is a secretive group made up of Scholars seeking to overthrow the Empire.[11]

Masks – "Named for the eerie silver masks that cover their faces, these soldiers are the Martial Empire’s most ruthless enforcers. They fight with speed and skill that is almost inhuman. Martial children destined for Maskhood are taken from their families at the age of 6, and trained at Blackcliff Military Academy for 14 years."[11]

Tribes – The Tribes are a group of nomads inspired by the Bedouin Tribes of North Africa.[12]

Resistance – The Resistance is a band of Scholars that work in secret to overthrow the Empire. The Resistance leaders are the best and the bravest of the Scholars. Elusive as the rebels are, they’re the only weapon the Scholars have against the Empire and its soldiers.

Augurs – "The Augurs are a group of 14 Martial holy men and women who are believed to be immortal, and who are revered as advisors and seers."[11]


Laia – Laia is described on the official An Ember in the Ashes web site as "a Scholar living with her grandparents and brother under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire. She and her family eke out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets, trying their best not to draw attention to themselves. But one night, Empire soldiers raid Laia’s home—and life as she knows it changes forever."[13]

Elias – This character is described as "the finest soldier at Blackcliff Military Academy—but secretly, its most unwilling. The scion of one of the Empire’s finest families, Elias wants only to be free from the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce."[13]

Helene – Helene Aquilla is Blackcliff Academy's only female student and also best friend to Elias.[13]

Commandant – The Commandant is the cruel head of the military academy, Blackcliff, as well as the mother of Elias, and is considered "one of the most powerful people in the Empire."[13]


While working at The Washington Post, Tahir read an article about Kashmiri women whose male family members were kidnapped by the military and never returned. She asked herself what she would do if she were one of those women. This was the kernel from which An Ember in the Ashes grew.[14]

The book's Martial Empire system is based on the social stratification of Ancient Rome.[15]

Tahir got the idea for An Ember in the Ashes in 2007 and wrote the book over a period of six years. She cites music as a key inspiration.[14]


Critical response and sales[edit]

An Ember in the Ashes debuted at #2 on the Young Adult New York Times Best Seller list.[16][17] It debuted at #64 on the USA Today Best-Selling Books list.[18]

It has garnered generally positive reviews. The Huffington Post said "An Ember in the Ashes glows, burns, and smolders—as beautiful and radiant as it is searing."[19] Amazon named it one of the best books of May, as well as the best young adult book of 2015[20] and the fourth best book of the year. The New York Times called it "a worthy novel—and one as brave as its characters".[21] However, the Chicago Tribune found that "the characters never fully spring to life under the author's ever-present hand."[22] CNN included the book in the list of best summer beach reads.[23] Publishers Weekly starred review called Tahir's debut "deft and polished" and the story "brimming with political intrigue".[24] Kirkus Reviews noted that the novel had "an original, well-constructed fantasy world" but commented that the novel had "sometimes-lackluster prose and a slight overreliance on certain kinds of sexual violence as a threat [that] only slightly diminish the appeal created by familiar (but not predictable) characters and a truly engaging if not fully fleshed-out fantasy world" and that it was bound to be popular.[25]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Result Ref
2015 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction Nominated [26]
2015 Goodreads Choice Awards Goodreads Debut Author Nominated [27]
2016 Milwaukee Teen Book Award Best Book Nominated [28]
2016 People's Choice Awards Favorite Fantasy Won [29]
David Gemmell Morningstar Award Best Newcomer Nominated [30]
2016 Children's Book Council Award Best Debut Novel Nominated [31]
2018 Lincoln Ward Best Novel Nominated [32]
2018 Evergreen Teen Book Awards Best Teen Novel Grades 9th through 12th Nominated [33]
2018 The Magnolia Award Teen Choice award Nominated [34]

Film adaptation[edit]

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.[35] The book's success led to the acquisition of a sequel almost immediately after its release.[16] The sequel, entitled A Torch Against the Night, was released in August 2017.[6] The third book, A Reaper at the Gates, was published on June 12, 2018.[36]


  1. ^ Tahir, Sabaa (June 23, 2014). "AN EMBER IN THE ASHES Cover Reveal!". Sabaa Tahir Official Website. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  2. ^ "An ember in the ashes : a novel". LC Online Catalog. Library of Congress ( Retrieved 2016-12-28.
  3. ^ "An Epic New Fantasy That's Sure to Set Readers' Hearts Ablaze". The Huffington Post.
  4. ^ Tahir, Sabaa (2015). An Ember in the Ashes. ISBN 9780007593262.
  5. ^ "'An Ember in the Ashes,' by Sabaa Tahir". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b "An Ember in the Ashes". Penguin Random House. October 16, 2017.
  7. ^ "Best Sellers – The New York Times". Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  8. ^ "An Ember in the Ashes". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  9. ^ "Belletristik". Der Spiegel. 24. 2015-06-06. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  10. ^ "Books". sabaa tahir. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  11. ^ a b c d "World - An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir". Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  12. ^ "AUTHOR CRUSH FRIDAY: SABAA TAHIR | Glitter Magazine". Glitter Magazine. Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  13. ^ a b c d "Characters - An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir". Retrieved 2015-12-17.
  14. ^ a b "Literary Rambles: SABAA TAHIR INTERVIEW AND AN EMBER IN THE ASHES GIVEAWAY". Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  15. ^ "World-building + An Ember In Ashes (Guest Post From Sabaa Tahir)". Retrieved 2015-12-08.
  16. ^ a b Alter, Alexandra (2015-05-17). "Success of 'An Ember in the Ashes' Leads Publisher to a Sequel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  17. ^ "Young Adult - May 17, 2015". The New York Times. May 17, 2015. Archived from the original on January 27, 2017. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  18. ^ "USA Today Best-Selling Books list". USA Today. May 7, 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-05-11. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  19. ^ "An Epic New Fantasy That's Sure to Set Readers' Hearts Ablaze". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  20. ^ " Best Books of 2015: Books". Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  21. ^ Rutkoski, Marie (May 8, 2015). "'An Ember in the Ashes,' by Sabaa Tahir". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  22. ^ Heppermann, Christine (May 14, 2015). "Young Adult roundup: 'The Cost of All Things' and more". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  23. ^ "Amazon's best summer beach reads". CNN.
  24. ^ "An Ember in the Ashes". Publishers Weekly. May 28, 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-05-01. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  25. ^ "AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir KIRKUS REVIEW". Kirkus Reviews. January 10, 2015. Archived from the original on October 18, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  26. ^ "Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction". Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  27. ^ "Announcing the Goodreads Choice Winner in Best Debut Goodreads Author!". Goodreads. Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  28. ^ "Milwaukee County Teen Book Award". Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  29. ^ "People's Choice And The Reading Room Announce 'Favorite Books 2016' Winners". Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  30. ^ "Morningstar Award – 2016". Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  31. ^ "2016 Winners and Finalists | Book Lists | Children's Book Council". Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  32. ^ "2018LincolnAwardMasterList.pdf". Google Docs. Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  33. ^ "Current Nominees". Evergreen Teen Book Award. 2016-08-29. Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  34. ^ "The Magnolia Award | The University of Southern Mississippi". Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  35. ^ Chai, Barbara (June 23, 2014). "Book Cover Reveal: 'An Ember in the Ashes' by Sabaa Tahir (Exclusive)". WSJ Blogs - Speakeasy. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  36. ^ A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir |