If you’ve been following me on social media – at least since 2021 – you’ll know that I found one of my absolute favorite series of all time that year. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve gone on adventures, I’ve smiled in understanding, I’ve experienced the characters’ pain – everything – as I read the fantasy series, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. There’s footage of me crying like a baby and there was more that I didn’t add to that video where I was even hiccupping because I was crying so hard. Sabaa Tahir has that quality in her writing where she makes you feel a world of emotions. And call me a masochist or whatever, but I am someone who loves books that make me emotional.
So 2021 was all about me gushing about the Ember quartet everywhere. In tag videos, in my favorites video, in my wrap ups – whichever video you saw on my channel, it somehow ended up there. And since it was everywhere, one of my subscribers asked me to talk about why I loved the books so much. They were especially curious because they didn’t like it and wanted to see what points moved me to tears and made me fall in love with it. I obliged and made a video about it that went up around this time last year.
Here’s the link if you’d like to watch the video: Why I Love Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes Quartet.
Before I jump into this blog post, a quick disclaimer and warning: Please note that this post is going to be full of spoilers. So if you haven’t read the series and hate spoilers, you might want to not read it. 😊
What It Is About
The Ember quartet is basically about three people in the broader perspective: Laia, Elias, and Helene Aquilla.
Laia works at her grandfather’s apothecary but one night, Martial guards raid their house take her brother away, killing their grandparents in the process. Laia is now on the run and she feels guilty that she didn’t save her brother. But since her brother asked her to run, to escape, she has to find a way to survive and to save her brother. She isn’t going to keep quiet, she isn’t one to keep quiet. But we now know Laia of this part and we know of the Laia who goes through a whole lot of character development and emerges towards the end. She has a lot of self-doubt at the beginning, but as the story progresses, self-confidence develops and she knows what has to be done.
Elias is training at Blackcliff academy where he is about to become a Mask, a very feared member of the Martial elite. He does not completely agree with what’s going on. He has his own little ways of rebelling. How he does what he thinks is right, how he follows his heart, and how he follows his mind – all of this keeps him on the path that he is supposed to take.
Elias’s story intersects with Laia’s early in the very first book when she comes to Blackcliff Academy to try and kill the commandant, Keris Veturia. Keris is one of the most evil, most cruel characters to ever exist. Her being the antagonist and the ways she does it makes for some very intriguing, gripping reading, which I will talk more about later in this post.
How Elias and Laia’s paths cross each other’s and how it intertwines as the story progresses is a journey to behold. You see how their relationship develops, how they are willing to do things for each other as well as for the correct thing. If they think that something is right, they will do it and they will put their hearts and souls into it . They will accept the truth, no matter how bitter, and they will do everything in their power to make sure that it comes true. Elias and Laia just have this spark between them and they understand each other very well.
Helene Aquilla is also about to become a Mask but she thinks that rules should be adhered to, that we need to pledge allegiance to the throne, to the King. She is rigid in her beliefs in a lot of parts. But her character develops in such a wonderful manner, from being this elite soldier and becoming a Mask and beginning to understand that her perspective is not the only one that is present. Her beliefs about Scholars (for example, Laia) by the way the Martials have been repressing them for ages and how they begin to change in the face jinns and wraiths and efrits is something to behold.
This whole magic system coming together as a very ancient magic comes to wreak havoc in the lives of everybody present, how Laia, Elias, and Helene along with some other characters (who my heart breaks thinking of) tackle this whole thing this whole magical, fantastical story that has stayed with me ever since I read it.
It can get difficult to describe what we love about a book or a series sometimes. But it didn’t take long for me to come up with a list of things I loved about An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Here are 10 things I loved about it.
1. It does not sugarcoat things.
We read books as a way of escape. I do it all the time. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I love reading. But An Ember in the Ashes doesn’t sugarcoat things, something we need from time to time. It tells us that it takes a lot of courage to do the right thing and it is never easy.
Be it Laia and Elias staying away from each other because they believe in the right thing or Elias giving up his relationships to take on his role as Soul Catcher or Helene Aquilla fulfilling her role as the Blood Shrike even though deep within she knows how barbaric and how unworthy of her allegiance the new king and the Commandant are or Helene feeling rightness with Harper and being cautious and always on her toes because she knows what might happen. Through these, Sabaa Tahir explains to us how doing the right thing is difficult but doing it is important.
2. The characters’ trust issues trickled down to me.
Given how the situation is in the kingdom, the empire, which is now being ruled by a very bloodthirsty Marcus, every single one of these characters are on their toes all the time. This uncertainty filled me with fright as well, almost as if it was a thriller. When you fear for a character, it means you’re attached to them, which I almost immediately became. I didn’t want these characters to suffer. I wanted to save them, to protect them. But when characters have trust issues, most of the times, they transfer them to the reader as well. And my trust issues in this book were well-founded.
The uncertainty, the bloodthirstiness, the merciless way in which the story progressed while giving me hope for a better tomorrow in the story, the gore, the violence – it moved me and shook me in ways I cannot explain, even though this blog post is supposed to do exactly that.
3. Lesson: Don’t judge a person by what their peers do.
Elias is a feared Mask, a Martial. And to watch him grow and bloom and do unexpected things – it kind of gave me hope and stressed on the fact that not everyone is the same. We cannot generalize. And if we could apply that to real life (hah, an impossible task it seems like at this point), life would be so much better. Maybe we should be kinder. I mean, put blame where necessary, but also see the goodness that appears before us, irrespective of how unexpected it is.
4. The Commandant.
Yes. The Commandant is a reason. Because she is so ruthless and merciless, her plans are bloody, and everything she does has such a selfish goal in mind – it sent shivers down my spine. She’s pure evil. And I don’t just mean physical battle. I’m talking about the strategic and mental battles that she wages, which are simply bloodthirsty. It’s very obvious that she is doing everything for herself even though she might look like she is subservient to the King. There’s absolutely no light in between, no cracks that Sabaa Tahir brings out as a placation for us readers by saying that “oh see she is evil but she is human too”. She’s just evil and she does what she does because it serves her.
And that’s something that I’m in awe of. Even though I do look for humanity, Keris Veturia being the kind of woman she was, it sort of made me rethink how I like villains to be written. Sometimes all they need to be is just plain selfish and mean! We don’t always need a villain to have a noble cause behind it all. I mean, it wasn’t less of a joy to see her bested in battle but to see her fighting to the very end for her own selfish means and to see her believing in her own goals, however twisted those goals are, left me in awe of her.
I think that’s part of what makes the series so great, that it has conflicted heroes but also this villain who has the upper hand about 90 percent of the time. To see these heroes fighting their way up and fighting relentlessly and to come together towards the end in such manner – it blew me away. Even now, in hindsight, after more than 1.5 years of having read the series, I’m choking up just thinking about them.
5. The attachment I formed with these characters.
Every single one of these characters – except the Commandant, of course. It might have seemed like I waxed poetic about Keris in the previous point but she is detestable, ugh. But as I read the book, I fell in love with these characters. Rather cautiously, but holy moly they were good! Laia and Elias were amazing, but Helene and Harper will always hold a special place in my heart. A heart that’s breaking even as I think of them.
These characters dole out lessons in loyalty, love, friendship, and duty, left right and center. And their character development throughout is so amazing to see! To see habits learned and unlearned, to improve upon their selves, to do more than what is required of them because the fate of the world rests on their actions – how can one’s affection for these people not be roused?
And given these books’ track record on their progress, I knew that I needed to be very careful with my affections. It probably didn’t help that I threw my affections at them and it came back in tatters though. Maybe that’s what makes it so beautiful, because even though my heart was bruised and even though there’s so much going on that made me feel the pain, I love it to no end. That is what good writing is all about.
6. The deaths.
I was just talking about attachment, wasn’t I? But that’s exactly the thing. The attachment that I formed towards the characters was why these made me BAWL. And I’m not talking about pretty sniffles. I had full on meltdowns which are on camera for everyone to see.
Be it the way Laia’s grandparents were treated or Helene’s family being murdered in full view of a crowd or how her sister was murdered or how Harper died in battle, every single one of these HIT ME LIKE A BATTERING RAM. I just felt like my heart was no longer there and I hated it almost as much as I loved the series.
I had come to think of these characters as my friends and family, and to see their families ripped out of life, it felt like an extension of my own family being ripped out. And that’s why those characters affected me so much. That’s why the deaths affected me so much. I mean, how can you be ready for something like this?
7. Lesson: The past isn’t you.
Throughout all the physical battles, strategies, and mind games, Sabaa Tahir tell us that your past might have made you into who you are, but it doesn’t have to define you. You can make yourself into a new person, a new you, and look forward to a better future if you so wish. And this gave me so much hope!
8. Lesson: There’s always a story behind revenge.
As that last battle whirled and we realize that what has been happening with the jinns and the humans has been a loop for these past however many eons, it brings to you the fact that the revenge that the jinn are looking to exact, has an origin story that’s equally chilling. And if we’re reading a revenge story of fiction, this is where we say “let’s look at both sides before weighing what they’re saying and deciding which side was right.” Because when it comes to innocent civilians losing their lives then there can be no compromise about it.
9. Lesson: Prejudice can be erased.
Helene starts off as a staunch supporter of the Martials and honestly thinks that Scholars are scum. She believes that the Martials’ rules and establishments are correct. But as the story progresses and she sees the Scholars’ side of the story while seeing what the Martials are doing, chip by chip by chip her prejudice begins to drop off. You see her thinking change and you know that it’s taking time, but it will be worth it in the end. If only we all had a little bit of patience…
10. The action.
I won’t talk much about the action in here, because I think the bloodthirstiness, ruthlessness, and merciless killings I mentioned before pretty much tell you that there’s explosive action in here right from the get go. But right from the very beginning where Laia’s brother is taken to the prison break to get him out, or attacks on kingdoms, or scuffles with bandits, or assassinations, or executions, or full blown wars – every single one of these and more and very well-orchestrated and keep you on the edge of your seat.
So those were the 10 reasons why I love An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. If you’d like to go watch my video detailing the same, here’s the link: The Ember Quartet.
Have you read this series? If yes, did you like it? Did you not like it? What makes you like it? Or what makes you dislike it? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you! ❤
I’ll see you in tomorrow’s Blogtober post.
Until next time, keep reading, and add melodrama to your life! 😊