Guest Post “I needed to hear their voices.” Author Sabaa Tahir on her audiobook AN EMBER IN THE ASHES

While writing my young adult fantasy novel, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, I saw my characters in my head: faces, movement, actions. But while visuals were an essential part of my writing process, I needed more if I wanted to delve into the souls of my characters. I needed to hear their voices. Many times, when trying to connect with what my characters were feeling, I closed my eyes and listened until I could hear what they had to say.

To me, Laia’s voice is musical—it reminds me of a flute or a violin. She has a storyteller’s voice, albeit one that is still developing its full power. Elias, meanwhile, has a deep, reassuring voice—one that doesn’t always betray the turmoil within. His is a voice you trust—a voice you want to keep listening to.

hardingham_fionaFrom day one, most of my characters had British accents. It’s not something I chose for them—that’s just how I’ve always heard them. I was born in Britain—perhaps it’s my British heritage coming through. I didn’t really think twice about these accents until it came time to choose narrators for the EMBER audiobook.

Luckily for me, the audio producer was very receptive to my desires to hear the British accent in the narration. She sent me a few samples of different voices, but the second I heard Fiona Hardingham and Steve West, I knew they were perfect. Fiona’s voice had that distinct musical quality that I associate with Laia, and the timbre of Steve’s voice matches Elias’s perfectly.

west_steveAfter choosing the narrators, the next step was to discuss name and place pronunciation. You’d think that after spending 6 years working on a book, I’d know how to pronounce the names in it. But I had to run through them a few times, reminding myself that what I heard in my head wasn’t always what I read out loud. I spoke with both the audiobook’s producer and Fiona about the pronunciations, and was deeply heartened by their commitment to have every single name and place pronounced perfectly.

A few weeks later, I listened to the audio of EMBER for the first time, and it was even better than what I’d hoped for. The narrators were perfect. Somehow, they’d managed to capture the spirits of my characters—not just Laia and Elias, but secondary characters too, all the way down to their regional dialects. It’s a type of storytelling that I didn’t fully appreciate until I listened to the audio of EMBER, and one that I hope you, as a listener, will enjoy.

—Author Sabaa Tahir

LISTEN TO A CLIP of Fiona Hardingham bringing her character, Laia, to life:

Already optioned for film by Paramount and burning up the New York Times bestseller list, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is the red hot debut that everyone is talking about.

This must-listen is narrated by the critically acclaimed duo, Fiona Hardingham and Steve West, who previously won an Odyssey Honor for their work together on The Scorpio Races. 


This strong debut featuring two characters who battle to survive a brutal society is perfectly enhanced through its narration…Fiona Hardingham’s soft, cultured tones convey both Laia’s overwhelming fear and sheer determination to overcome the horrible abuses she experiences. Alternately, Steve West calls forth the tension in Elias as he struggles to maintain his morality while unwillingly competing to become the next emperor…Listeners will find themselves drawn in as the narrators bring this society, suggestive of the Roman Empire, vividly to life.”—AudioFile, Earphones Award winner

★ “Tahir’s deft, polished debut alternates between two very different perspectives on the same brutal world, deepening both in the contrast. A tale brimming with political intrigue and haunted by supernatural forces.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“First-time novelist Tahir has written an ambitious sword-and-sand adventure story that is notable for its suspense and scope.”—Booklist

“Tahir’s world-building is wonderfully detailed and the setting is an unusual one for fantasy novels. All of her characters, even minor ones, are fully realized. For fans of Game of Thrones.”—School Library Journal

“An original, well-constructed fantasy world…Truly engaging…Bound to be popular.”—Kirkus Reviews

It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”—

“Tahir’s exploration of the many ways in which we fall prey to one another, and to ourselves, strengthens the fiber of this action-driven book…So, too, does Tahir’s world building…A worthy novel — and one as brave as its characters.”—New York Times

“A harrowing, haunting reminder of what it means to be human — and how hope might be kindled in the midst of oppression and fear.”—Washington Post

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