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.
I’ve been hearing so much about this series recently and after finding out how much my lovely friend Charlotte enjoyed it, I knew I wanted to read this series. I’ve been buddy-reading this series with Alex and I’m so glad we’re reading it together! This felt like YA fantasy with a slight twist, and I really enjoyed it. I also loved the two points of view, which I was hesitant about going into the story as I sometimes find multiple POV mean you want to skip one and go to the next. However, I enjoyed these two equally and for different reasons, and felt like they worked well together.
These two points of view include Laia, who ends up as a slave for the somewhat evil commandant of the Blackcliff Academy, who she is also spying on. The commandant also happens to be the mother of our second character, Elias, who is a soldier at the academy. Both of these characters are questioning authority for different reasons, and are brought together by the decisions they make along the way.
You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius.
This story is definitely a more of a character and plot driven story than a location heavy one, which let me down slightly. I personally love setting heavy stories and a lot of world building, and I did struggle to vividly picture the world throughout the story. Some scenes were better than others, and I’m hoping as the series goes on we learn more about the world and surroundings. I also really liked the characters and felt a lot of sympathy for them – both me and Alex were getting emotional towards the end! I found myself thinking about these characters even when I wasn’t reading (or had picked up something else when I finished my pages for the day), which proves how much I was drawn to their stories.
The plot definitely drove the story which was perfect for reading it over a 4 day readathon. The writing was so easy to read and I didn’t want to put the book down, which bodes well for the rest of the series! But despite it being super compelling, Sabaa Tahir didn’t steer away from difficult topics. The beautiful writing occasionally gave way to brutality and violence, which neither me or Alex quite expected so much of. This is definitely not one for the fainthearted, and has a lot of mentions/scenes of killing, rape and torture.
You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.
I’m holding out my 5 stars for now as I feel like this has got more to give and I’m really looking forward to seeing where this series goes. However, this was a really enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy read with likable characters and an unpredictable plot that made me want to keep on reading!
CW: sexual assault, torture, violence, death, imprisonment
4 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽