Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
It’s been a while since I’ve started a new book series, I have heard nothing but good things about this series, but still I am hesitant to get my hopes up about anything, always wary that another YA cliques might be around the corner. Boy oh boy was I wrong. I’m already reading the sequel, I’m that excited. This book had me on tether hooks!!
I love this book, half the time I didn’t know what’s going on or who was being killed and I’m pretty sure nothing is really achieved at the end of but this book is so determined to tell a story that I applaud it.
That isn’t to say to any extent this is bad writing either in plot or story. It more feels to me like Sabaa Tahir wrote her story and then cut it apart to make the more readable books of the trilogy, at least that’s how the first book feels. This is the first third of this epic adventure and it will not entice me with cheap tricks to read on, only deep characterisation and a twisting plot line. I must this is not the kind of book to read with anxiety. I kept having to put it down because I was becoming too invested in the characters struggles and everything they were doing was just too dangerous for me to process.
Where to start? Probably the beginning.
First chapter really drew me in, it was intense and quickly sets the universe up and its stakes: big evil empire that enslaves people who want to be free (pretty simple). But it’s also been done, I’ve read plenty of books with this premise, hell my own book is a take on it.
And I really should be taking notes
This a rich tapestry of different cultures, not just people but ideologies, laws, music and religion. It draws you in with the different people and cultures all colliding together and clashing. It comes swooping in and out of this to make of us aware of the much wider world but doesn’t bother to bog down the reader with details that aren’t necessary. Because this story is about the characters.
I do think there is a healthy balance between the two plot lines of Elias and Laia because it takes a long time for them to intersect and I care about both of them. I feel like I know these characters. I’ve walked beside them and understand them better than they have yet to understand themselves. Laia is so pure and has the more active plot lines than Elias. Elias…is an idiot. I love him…but he’s an idiot. But I think that was the intention.
But there is something I will call now. Helene, Elias’s childhood friend, who is meant to be a powerful warrior, spends the majority of the book being defended by men and requiring Elias to save her. That doesn’t mean I don’t like her character, but I worry that it’s just another story where I’m being told the girl is strong when she’s constantly having to be saved.
I’m shocked that it didn’t fall into the normal romance subplot tropes. It nearly does, but there enough sensibleness for the characters to share that it didn’t affect my enjoyment. What I’m glad for is all the characters’ motivation are based on their own beliefs rather than them thinking with their junk.