Published by Penguin on April 28th 2015
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Politics & Government, Young Adult
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.
This was a highly anticipated read for me, because I’d heard so many good things and the response to this book was breaking all my social media. I was so excited to see what all the fuss was about. Immediate reaction upon finishing the book: That was great. Also extraordinarily frustrating. (And now I’ll attempt to explain…)
The premise is intriguing. I liked the whole spy thing and the reluctant soldier thing. It’s a bit slow in the beginning – the book opens with the murder of Laia’s grandparents and Laia’s subsequent separation from her brother. Laia is a sympathetic character – I felt for her not only because her family has been ripped apart but also because she’s struggling with the guilt of leaving her brother behind to save herself. She wishes she were more brave, more courageous. She’s disappointed with herself, but rather than wallowing in self-pity she seeks out the rebels, who may be the only people who can help rescue her brother.
I’m not always a fan of alternating perspectives, but Tahir pulled this off really well. Both Laia and Elias are strong narrators. It becomes especially interesting when their stories intertwine at the military academy. Although honestly, I’d have to say I liked Elias more than I liked Laia. Her emotional struggle endeared me at the beginning, but she became too bold too fast, and this was a little unrealistic.
Things began to go downhill for me a little over halfway. And that had nothing to do with the plot, which was still fast-paced and engaging. It had everything to do with the not-so-subtle hints Tahir was dropping about a possible romance between the narrators. And this bothered me because I realized I might be shipping the wrong ship. Elias and Helene are adorable, OKAY? It’s obvious he deeply cares about her, and then Laia shows up and suddenly he thinks he’s into her. This just didn’t work for me, and it really spoiled the tone of the rest of the book. And maybe the author is doing this purposefully…? Maybe the unpredictability is a good thing…? But I don’t think so because the book was originally supposed to be a standalone. (Does anyone else have trouble believing this??)
Anyhow, it’s difficult for me to get my feelings across because even though I really enjoyed it, there were several things that skewed my satisfaction. A review I read by a fellow blogger also pointed out the lack of world building. I actually hadn’t thought much about this, because I’d been so engaged. But there’s very little backstory/explanation/history provided for the Martial Empire. I walked away with more questions than answers.
I sound a bit negative, but this is just one of those books that gives you equal parts enjoyment and frustration. I’d still highly recommend it simply because it’s an engaging read. But I wanted to be honest with you about the drawbacks.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS!!