by Sabaa Tahir
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.
Source: Liberty Bay Books
Format: Paperback ARC
I’m just going to skip all the formalities and get right down to business. Starting with what I didn’t like…
Laia: Let me preface this with something, I liked Laia…most of the time… My problem with Laia was that she had two extreme and contradictory sides to her personality. One minute she was the cowardly lion shaking in her boots and the next she was Mrs. calm cool and collected and was doing wild heroic stunts. At first I appreciated the fact that she wasn’t the outlandishly brave hearted heroine often seen in literature, but then I quickly realized that she was always one or the other, never a little bit of both. She was always hiding beneath the covers crying or charging into battle without a second thought. She had no balance or believable internal struggle between courage and cowardice. In the end this really took away from her character.
The other thing about her that I found was really tripping me up was her age. You can infer from the synopsis and most of the story that she is clearly in her teens. However, there were many times (mostly at the start) where she honestly gave the vibe of and sort of acted like a very young child. A lot of times when I honestly forgot that she wasn’t a child. The age I pictured her as changed how the situation and the story came across at the time.
There was also a whole lot of this going on for people who barely knew one another…
Romance: My biggest problem with the romance element of this one was not necessarily the love triangle situation (although that wasn’t my favorite). Really it was the fact that all the romantic interests seemed to spring out of nothing! Affections formed out of thin air and never really supported. The relationships never evolved, grew, or even seemed very real or serious. So I couldn’t really get on board with any of the possible ships.
Ending: The ending was one of the only times it got predictable and it all seemed a little generic-action-hero type of a thing. It just got a bit too dramatic for me and it wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted it to be after all that led up to it.
Now on to the things I did like…
Storyline: This storyline was one that was really unique and very rich. I know rich seems like a weird word to use here but it is the only way I can think of to describe it. It was full of life and dimension with all these different ideas layered and blended together.
Worldbuilding: For the most part the worldbuilding was pretty solid. There was no info-dumping so that was a plus, and I could easily picture myself as part of the world. I wished that it had had a little bit more of the everyday, normal life in that world stuff so that I could understand what life was like for everyone else and see the contrast to how it was for Laia, Elias, and the other prominent characters. I think it also would have helped me to better understand the way everything in that world worked. However, I want to make it clear that there were no problems because of this. The world was really great and there were no gaps or anything. My comment about wanting more was just me being nitpicky.
Plot: Despite it’s large size, the book moves along at a decent pace. Also, with the exception of some of the ending details, I didn’t see most of it coming. The book was always one step ahead, just enough to keep the interest going. Overall I was pretty happy with how it went down.
Characters: With the exception of my issue with Laia that I mentioned earlier, I really did enjoy the characters. For the most part they seemed well rounded.They all were well developed and multi-dimensional. Even the characters with smaller roles had distinct personalities, a fact which I really appreciated.
Last Words: This was a fantastic, well rounded, and engaging tale. Tahir captures the audience’s attention and creates a world where imagination runs wild. I would highly recommend it to lovers of all genre. I give it four and a half stars out of five.
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