Ever wondered what Sabaa Tahir was thinking when she wrote some of your favorite An Ember in the Ashes quotes? Us too! We had our Ember Insiders vote on their top 5 quotes from the first book in the bestselling series, and then Sabaa took a moment to answer what was going on for her, the characters, and the world around her when she wrote these words. Did your favorite make the list?
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
I love finding the title of a book in the text. When it’s meaningful and resounding–even better! Laia and Elias are both “Embers in the Ashes”. Though I wanted the references to be similar, each has to speak to the character in question. This reference to Laia is delivered by the Augur Cain and it is not just a representation of what Laia is. It is also the expression of hope–Cain’s hope for what Laia will become. The quote went through a few iterations, but ultimately getting it right meant putting myself in the shoes of an all-powerful Augur and asking: What would I see when I looked at Laia?
“I do not doubt, I do not hesitate. I am the Lioness’s daughter, and I have the Lioness’s strength.”
Laia struggles throughout EMBER not just to find her courage but to believe that it is lasting and real. So much of her struggle is in relation to the comparisons she makes between herself and her mother, the Lioness. At this point in the book. Laia has finally come to terms with the fact that she will never be exactly like her mother. However, Laia finds comfort in the fact that one of her mother’s most essential character traits passed to her: strength. Additionally, family is a huge part of the story and a big part of Laia’s life, so this was my way of honoring that.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
Like Laia’s “title” quote, I knew Elias’s had to be something that resounded. But Elias’s fate is, of course, VERY different than Laia’s, something that will become exceedingly clear in A REAPER AT THE GATES. Elias doesn’t lack for courage. His challenges are different. First, he must find a way to forgive himself for his crimes as a Blackcliff student and Mask. Secondly, he must embrace a destiny he does not want. That destiny does include a great deal of blood and violence and it is something that he is constantly grappling with. This quote was meant to foreshadow the difficulty of the road ahead–and to highlight the strength he’ll need to survive it.
“In the night, your loneliness crushes you, as if the sky itself has swooped down to smother you in its cold arms.”
I’m a night owl–I often write at night. I love the night because of the quiet and the sense of possibility. I feel like my mind goes places that it would never dare during the day, and that makes for a much better creative space in which to work. But the night has another side too, and that is the sense of loneliness. No one is awake, and as I have insomnia, I have spent many, MANY nights feeling like I am the only human in the world. It’s all very angsty and gothic.
“All the beauty of the stars means nothing when life here on earth is so ugly.”
Sometimes, when I’ve read a news story about child soldiers or war or genocide that is particularly devastating, I go for a walk. I do end up reading a lot of pretty harrowing international news stories and books, so this happens fairly frequently. As I’m walking, I’ve occasionally found myself rather resentful of the stars, shining in all their distant glory. “How dare you shine,” I’ve thought to myself, “When there’s so much pain down here.” I drew directly from that emotion when writing this quote. Laia is in a dark place–it seems like nothing is going right and nothing will. She is bitter and frustrated and frightened–the way all of us get sometimes–and I wanted her to give into that anger for a moment. A characters’ human moments—rage, loneliness, despair—are so often what make them relatable and real. This was my opportunity to give Laia one of those moments.
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