I recently had the good fortune to read the upcoming novel, An Ember in the Ashes. This book lived up to all my expectations and still, weeks later, haunts my thoughts. It has become a favorite and I’m honored to be featuring an interview with the author, Sabaa Tahir.
About the Book
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
Thank you for joining us!
I’m so excited to be here!
About An Ember in the Ashes:
The summary for your book compares your setting to a “brutal Rome-like world.” Did you do a lot of historical research to help build up your world?
Research was my favorite way of procrastinating. (Which is way nerdy, but that’s the truth.) I spent a ton of time researching slavery, both in the U.S. and in ancient Rome, as well as the system of social stratification in the Roman Empire. I also agonized over names—every character name in the book has deeper meaning. I made this massive list with etymologies and meanings and notes, and drew from it constantly. I researched military schools too, and conducted interviews with soldiers and police officers to get a sense of what it’s like to be a warrior.
What came first the story or the characters?
The characters. Laia and her brother, Darin, were first. Their friendship and closeness came out of my friendship with my own two brothers. After Laia, I thought up one of the villains—the Nightbringer. Elias came next, and with him, Helene, the Commandant and the world of Blackcliff Military Academy.
I’m not a writer but I always imagine that characters often times take on a life of their own and demand to be written in a certain way. Was this true for Elias or Laia?
Such an astute point and yes, it was true for Laia. She started off as more of a rebellious heroine, and given her background, it just didn’t fit. I had to take into account her entire history and then reimagine how she would actually respond to the early events of the book.
I was awestruck with the depth you were able to give all your characters and their world—how long have you been dreaming up AEitA?
I worked on the AEitA for 6 years. 🙂
Is there anything particular you’d like your readers to take away from reading your work?
Recently, someone who read an early galley of EMBER wrote me an email. She said: “I love that Elias and Laia have hope, even when everything is going wrong.” That’s it, right there. That’s what I want readers to take away—this idea that hope can fuel us, even in the darkest moments of our lives. I’d argue that those moments are when having hope is the most important—because it’s hope that carries us through.
Your writing process
AEitA is impeccably written with beautiful prose and well-rounded characters have you written any unpublished works prior to this book?
I’ve been writing since I was a little girl—angsty journals, short stories, bad poetry. But unless you count my fourth-grade opus about a birthday party—this is my first novel.
Please tell us that this will be a series? You left this first book off with so many possibilities of a follow-up (or few). If you do choose to write another do you already know where the story would go?
I’d love for it to be a series, because I have my characters’ whole lives planned out, but right now it’s a standalone. I’m hoping that readers will ask for more, though, and that Penguin (who is publishing the book) will want more, too!
When writing do you listen to music? If so can you tell us a couple of songs that you’d call your AEitA soundtrack?
I can’t write without music! I actually have an AEiaA playlist that’s a couple of hundred songs long. But if I *had* to pick only three songs (I know you said a couple, but I can’t bring myself to omit a single one of these), they would be:
Questions about An Ember in the Ashes Film Adaptation
It has been announced that the rights for AEitA have been purchased by Paramount. Did you ever dream it could possibly be a film while writing?
Oh my goodness, never. It blew me away when Paramount optioned the book. I sort of try not to think about it because it’s too exciting to imagine EMBER on the big screen!