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.
Unpopular opinion time. For all the love this book is getting, I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t like it more. Was it exciting? Yes. Did I like the characters? Surprisingly, yes. But was the book anything outstanding that I haven’t read before? Nope, not by a long shot. It felt recycled, clichéd, and had essences from essentially many other books I’ve read. A little bit Hunger Games meets Harry Potter 4 (with the Trials bit), coupled with some world-building including everything I’ve already seen.
That is actually one of my pet peeves- half-assed attempts at world-building, involving a recipe I’d say any reader of YA will recognise: made up Kingdom names, chunky exposition thrown in to hastily explain said Kingdom, and the odd attempt to mingle some mystery in (in this case, with magic??) Seriously, I hope the author has plans to explain where all the magic fits in, because honestly, I was thrown.
Something else that bothered me: the romance. Okay, I know the type of male character Sabaa tried to introduce with Keenan: the silent, brooding warrior dude who is wise and sees through to the protagonist’s soul at what really matters….You get the jist. I wouldn’t mind him and Laia getting together, but I honestly don’t care about either of them. What I especially don’t get is any potential relationship between Elias and Laia. They have NOTHING in common. I don’t care about either of them, and honestly Elias would be good with Helene, but I really got tired of listening to his hormonal whining about girls.
Also, I realise that this book is meant to be inspired by Ancient Rome, but honestly. There’s more to Rome than raping servants and evil leaders. If the author wants to be gritty, show and don’t tell. I don’t care how many times you mention the chance of someone getting raped. Show us, if it’s really as gritty as it wants to appear.
And I don’t like the casual killing of a bunch of characters. And can I mention the ending? Elias, you barely know Laia. Stop making decisions based on one person that will affect a whole lot more negatively.
Overall, I didn’t hate the book but wouldn’t say I loved it either. I will read the second book, because I’m curious and can’t say no to what could potentially be a good series. It happened with the Lunar Chronicles, so why not this?