Recap: An Ember in The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Recap-AEITA by Sabaa Tahir

The release of A Torch Against The Night is only 48 hours away and I’m freaking out. Absolutely freaking out. I happened to reread the book a few days ago and the ending left me thirsty for the next book.

I thought it would be a perfect time to give you another recap!!


****Instead, go buy the book and read it!!!****

None of this is mine. All rights go to the author. 

At a Glance:

Told from two different perspectives, a soldier and a slave, both ruled by the Empire, this novel illustrates the journey to freedom and how far the characters will go through in order to be free. When Elias and Laia cross paths, will they be able to help each other gain freedom?

World Building

The Empire

Consists of Scholars and Martials. The world Elias and Laia lives in. Ruled by an Emperor. Focuses on weapons, war, and violence.


A class of people known for their love for fighting and killing. Mostly consists of soldiers of the Empire.


A class of people known for their intellect. Forbidden to read, write, and attend school. A Scholar Resistance has been rising that the Empire are threatened by. Most Scholars are slaves.


A movement dedicated to stop the Empire’s rule. These rebels are smart and the most bravest Scholars. The Commandant wants them destroyed.

Blackcliff Academy

A school that trains the soldiers of the Empire. Thrives on violence, death and weapons. The students here become Masks and are the weapons of the Emperor.


Soldiers that wear silver masks from forehead to jaw. Deadly. Empire controls them.


14 red-eyed “holy men” that possess powers of divination, prophesy, and mind reading. They are worshiped by the Emperor as they provide guidance. They choose the children who will attend Blackcliff to become Masks. They announce the Trials.

The Trials

Four tests: Trial of Courage, Trial of Cunning, Trial of Strength and Trial of Loyalty, make up the Trials. This event occurs when a new leader must be chosen to lead the Empire.

For more about the world in AEITA, check out Sabaa Tahir’s website on the book! 

Important Characters:

Laia: Protagonist. Scholar girl who becomes a Resistance spy stationed at Blackcliff in order to save her brother from the Empire’s violent grasp. Struggles with being brave and standing up for what she believes in. A shadow in her family’s reputation as Resistance leaders.

Elias: Protagonist. A Mask who was about to desert the night of his graduation from Blackcliff but stays to participate in the Trials. He wants to escape his violent fate as a soldier of the Empire.

Helene: Elias’ best friend. Only female student at Blackcliff. Very loyal to Empire. Becomes an Aspirant in the Trials. Discovers she has the power to heal with her voice.

Darin: Laia’s brother who is imprisoned at Kauf, a dangerous, deadly prison. He forged weapons under the guidance of Spiro for the Resistance. He is mistakenly suspected as a Resistance rebel.

Spiro: Works for himself as a Teluman smith (weapons). He made Darin his apprentice, and oversees the weapons for the Resistance.

Commandant (Keris Veturia): Elias’ hateful mother. She runs Blackcliff with violence and punishment. One of the most powerful people in the Empire. Wishes to take down the Resistance.

Farrar Twins; Marcus and Zak: Both Aspirants in the Trials. Both love violence but Marcus is the more evil twin. He kills Zak in the Trial of Strength. Marcus becomes the Emperor at the end of the novel.

Keenan: Laia’s handler. Part of the Resistance. One of Laia’s love interest.

Mazen: Current leader of the Resistance. A big fat liar.

What Happened?!

Darin gets taken by the Empire in a raid. Laia and Darin’s grandfather and grandmother are murdered by the Mask. Laia runs and leaves her brother to his fate.

She gets caught by the Resistance and convinces them to help her save her brother by revealing she is the daughter of the Lioness, who was the ultimate leader and founder of the Resistance. Laia’s mother played a huge role in the the Resistance, and was bold, brave and defiant. Unlike Laia.

Elias’ story begins with his plans to desert the night of his graduation from Blackcliff as a Mask. We learn that the deserters that are caught, and are mostly always caught, are beat and punished by the Commandant. Deserters die. Point blank.

An Augur appears before Elias the night before graduation and tells him vague prophetic advice. In short, Elias should stay at the academy and do his duty if he doesn’t want to become the heartless monster he fears he is becoming

He moves towards me, his black eyes pitiless. “But if you stay, if you do your duty, you have a chance to break the bonds between you and the Empire forever. You have a chance at greatness you cannot conceive. You have a chance at true freedom-of body and of soul.”

The Augurs announce the fall of the current Emperor’s line and the beginning of the Trials. Elias, Helene, Marcus and Zak becomes Aspirants, the candidates, for Emperor/Empress and Blood Shrike. The next leader of the Empire will be chosen by winning two out of the four trials. Thus, the games begin.

Laia becomes a spy for the Resistance in exchange for their help in saving her brother from prison. She goes to Blackcliff and becomes the Commandant’s slave.

Laia and Elias meet each other for the first time. There is an immediate connection. (I’m shipping it hard.)

Trial of Courage sends the Aspirants in hopes that they will face their deepest fears. They must come out alive in 7 days and make it back to the Academy. Elias’ fear is his own capability of murder and brutality. He sees piles of 539 bodies, that of his grandfather, Laia, and Helene.

He survives. (Obviously)

While this is happening to Elias, Laia gets caught by the Commandant when she finds a letter addressed to her opened. The Commandant marks Laia with a large “K” carved from her collarbone to her heart.

After the first trial, the second begins shortly after. The Trial of Cunning asks the Aspirants to avoid and fight off their assassins until dawn. (so I’m guessing that means 24 hours, yea?) Not only are there assassins, who happen to be fellow guards and Masks at Blackcliff, the appearance of supernatural creatures and the sabotage of Marcus and Zak, make things a little bit difficult for Helene and Elias to survive.

OH BUT WAIT. Helene has magical singing powers that heals others when she sings to them. So, Helene heals Elias when he gets injured and they both survive the Trial of Cunning.

Now, Laia is getting no valuable information for the Resistance, but she discovered the truth behind Darin and his sketchbook. He is Spiro’s apprentice and creates and forges weapons for the Resistance.

Laia finally hears in on a conversation between the Commandant and a certain Lord Nightbringer. It’s very suspicious and she wants to talk to Mazen, so she convinces Keenan to meet her at the Moon Festival down in the city.

Izzi joins Laia to the Moon Festival but not without Elias eavesdropping on their plans and him deciding to follow them in disguise as a Tribesman. Disguised, Elias dances with Laia (And I swoon SO hard) but there is a raid and she realizes who she’s really dancing with.

Elias finds out Helene is in love with him (no surprise there) and that really fucks him up. He’s also so very aware for his growing feelings for Laia.

Izzi is now becoming a trusted friend and helps Laia. They find the tunnel the Farrar twins are using in secret for secret evil things. Marcus and Zak find them and while Zak is telling Marcus to just leave them be, Marcus intends to rape Laia and beat her in the process.

Laia screams in pain, but Elias and Helene are nearby and almost kissed before Laia screamed, and they rushe to her side to kick Marcus’ filthy, stupid ass.

So, Laia is pretty beat up and is dying. Elias begs Helene to heal her. She refuses. Elias is a mess for the next day. Then, Laia gets better and turns out Helene visited her and healed her with her voice!!

Trial of Strength begins. It’s a full out war-like scenario where Marcus is against Zak and Elias is against Helene. Only one can survive. Marcus kills his brother, and Elias is named victor because Helene got disqualified, which the Augurs had a role in.

Because Elias won this trial, he gets a prize and it’s no other than Laia. Laia believes she’s been caught as a spy and doesn’t trust Elias at first. When the situation is cleared up, they talk through the night and kiss (OHMYGOD 😍). Laia also helps Elias make a choice about not crossing the line he crossed during this trial. They talk about guilt and hope.

“There are two kinds of guilt,” I say softly. “The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let that guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged, but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you, Elias.”

The Trial of Loyalty is the very next day, and the task is to kill Laia. Elias refuses to kill her because he won’t cross that line. Helene tries to convince him to kill her. Marcus ends up killing her, but we later find out Laia is actually alive, and the Augurs are up to something.

Marcus becomes Emperor, as the late Emperor is now dead, killed by the Resistance. Helene becomes Blood Shrike, and Elias is sentenced to death.

In prison, Elias recognized his freedom of soul because he will die for the right reasons. He did the right thing by refusing to kill Laia. His mother (the Commandant), visits him in prison.

While Elias prepares for his execution which will be done by Helene, the newly titled Blood Shrike, Laia is planning to escape the Academy and save Elias in the process.

How did it end??

Laia succeeds in saving Elias, but not before he promises to help her save her brother. They head to the tunnels where Elias planned to escape Blackcliff at the start of the novel.

Helene finds them, gives Elias his scims back and tells him she will lead the soldiers in the opposite direction. This will be the last time she helps Elias, as they are now enemies.

Book ends with Laia and Elias heading to freedom.

Other details:

  • There’s a freaking love square happening between Helene, Elias, Keenan and Laia (UGH)
  • Keenan and Laia also kiss in the novel
  • Augurs are in control and play a much bigger role. Helene made a deal with them; she knew she was going to Blood Shrike no matter what, but it was always between Elias and Marcus for Emperor
  • Marcus is absolutely torn when he killed Zak; there’s a shred of humanity in him
  • Commandant killed Laia’s parents (Yea, her parents are dead…)


  • What the hell does the ink do to the Commandant’s tattoo that we see at the end of the novel when she visits Elias in prison??
  • Who the fuck is Lord Nightbringer and what does he have to do with the Resistance, the Empire, and the Commandant?
  • Will we see more fantasy/supernatural elements in Book 2?
  • Will they get to Darin in time?
  • Marcus as Emperor. ‘Nough said.
  • Helene as Blood Shrike. “Nough said.
  • What bloody horrible things is Marcus going to make her do??

What burning questions do you have after reading An Ember in the Ashes?? Are you excited as I am?? Who ships Laia and Elias? Helene is going to play a huge role in the sequel (She has her own POV!), are you looking forward to getting into her head? What are your favourite part(s) about this novel?

Check out my review on An Ember in the Ashes!!


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