The long-awaited conclusion to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series has finally arrived. The fourth and final book, A Sky Beyond the Storm, is an electric, tightly plotted masterpiece of a finale. From the moment I picked it up, I could not put it down until I finished it at three in the morning.
I have followed Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series almost since the first book was published in 2015. The story follows Laia of Serra, a Scholar living under the cruel fist of the Empire. Her brother has been imprisoned for unlawfully learning to make Martial weapons. Her fight to get him back transforms into a fight for her people. Along the way, she meets Elias Veturius, a boy who has been honed into the Empire’s most deadly of weapons — a Mask. Though trained to be a killer, he fights to keep his heart and soul free of their black influence. Meanwhile, Helene Aquilla, a fellow Mask like Elias, strives only to do her duty to the Empire and her people — whatever the cost. These three characters form the heart of Tahir’s series, and it is through them that her capabilities as a writer truly shine. With crystal clear prose, a willingness to take risks and deft characterization, Tahir brings her characters and story to life in a way that I can only envy. Throughout her series, I have never known exactly what was going to happen next, yet every part of the endgame feels natural and logical, rooted in the characters’ choices, mistakes and victories.
Despite the trials and tribulations they face, Tahir’s characters never lose sight of hope. Having re-read and finished this series over finals week, against the backdrop of this whole semester, the An Ember in the Ashes was exactly what I needed to be reading. These books kick you in the teeth, rip your heart out and stomp on it, but in the best possible way. Despite the horrors that come their way and the seeming impossibility of the stakes, Laia, Elias and Helene find a way to keep going — to remain strong, to love, hope and live against everything their world throws at them. Their choices to do what is right and keep fighting sustain them throughout the series. Though others in their world have become corrupted and beaten down, they manage to survive and hold onto the light.
Though harsh, Tahir’s world is beautifully constructed. Dominated by the Martial Empire, life as a Scholar is not easy for Laia. Her people are treated as inferior, irrelevant, forbidden to learn how to read or write and often used as slaves by the Empire. The Tribespeople, with whom Elias spent the first six years of his life before he was taken to Blackcliff to train as a Mask, sustain an uneasy truce with the Martials, certain that their way of life will be taken from them one day as well. Unlike the Martials, who emphasize strength and loyalty above all else, and the Scholars, who prized learning and knowledge, the Tribespeople emphasize the bonds of family and friends. Their most respected leaders are the Kehannis, or storytellers of the Tribes, who spin stories into a captivating kind of magic. Real magic weaves through Tahir’s series as well — fantastical beings such as the Jinn, efrits, wraiths and wights are as real as Laia, Elias and Helene are. Tahir strikes a perfect balance between the fantastic and the realistic, gritty nature of the rest of the novels.
A Sky Beyond the Storm is the perfect conclusion to this series, finishing the characters’ arc in a satisfying, though not always happy, manner. In some ways, I cannot believe that the series is really over, but it is definitely one that I will return to again and again. If you haven’t checked it out already, I definitely recommend it.
Jessica Lussier is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]