This book was amazing, hands down. I know I say this with a lot of books I read but oh my gosh, literally everything in this book is brilliant. The plot, the characters, the world and the writing were all wonderful. It was such a refreshing read. I actually suggest you go into this book blind, because that way there’s more suspense and tension, but if you want to know what the story is about, here’s the summary from Goodreads (don’t read if you want to go into the story blind though!):
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 is so hard to write without spoiling anything omg)
So there’s two main story arcs in this book; one follows Laia, who’s a Scholar girl who’s brother got kidnapped, and there’s Elias, who is one of the best students at Blackcliff Military Academy. As the story progresses, we see how their individual stories fit together in the grand scheme of things. The plot itself was amazing. I physically could not put the book down because every chapter had me hanging and wanting more until I reached the end. It’s like the Masks – the more you read, the more attached you come to the book (I tried). There’s literally everything you could ask for in a fantasy book – there’s plenty of action, romance, epic battle scenes and also some mild drama. There are also plot twists I definitely did not anticipate. Also character deaths.
I really liked the world that the author has created in this book. From what I’ve heard/read about this book, it’s inspired partly by Ancient Rome, and I can definitely see elements of that reflected in this book. I can mostly see it in the names of characters, the setting and through the harsh repercussions and punishments. It’s also a complete world of its own. There’s so much detail that has gone into creating this world. It’s very detailed, and has vivid imagery describing the landscape. There’s also quite a lot of details with mythical creatures and powers (although I still have a few unanswered questions about them). There are even catacombs (which I would imagined are inspired by the catacombs underneath the Colosseum) that are featured. I also thought that some plot elements were reminiscent of Harry Potter. Now I’m just spoiling the book but you get the point. I really loved the worldbuilding because it was done so well, and I think this book had a perfect ratio of worldbuilding and plot.
The writing itself was executed really well, and I really liked how easy it was to get lost in the story. It’s so easy to be caught up in the story and screaming at the characters (that happened a couple of times) to not do something completely irrational. It was quite an intense story, and although there are some slower parts, the (quite fast) pace of the book made me keep reading. The cliffhangers didn’t help, either.
All the characters were amazing! They all have so much depth to them, so it feels so real. I really like all the character arcs, even the antagonists, which is unusual for me. Sure, there were moments when I really hate the antagonists, but there are also moments where I was just sympathising with them. It’s a tough world, y’know.
I really enjoyed reading from the two different perspectives. Laia is a timid girl who’s desperate to do anything for her brother, but she really grows as a character and person as the book goes on. She realises that she’s lived quite a sheltered life, and in that sense, I can relate quite a lot. I also really loved reading from Elias’s point of view. He offers a different perspective on the same world, and so it’s really interesting to see how the two sides of the story fit together. Elias also really grows in this book, and I love his character development! I can’t really say much else because spoilers, and you should go read it if you haven’t! The side characters were also really interesting to read about. All the supporting characters were just as developed, and I really love how the writing does everything justice. Even characters like the Commandant had a really nice story arc (even if I didn’t like them as a person).
There’s also romance in this story. There’s a kind of love triangle going on between the main characters (except it involves four people so what would that be called?). It’s enough romance so it’s a separate plot line, but there also isn’t too much so that the entire book is driven book. There’s also enough tension and indecision to make you want to swear a lot and claw your entire face off (that may or may not have happened to me). But for the most part, it was a pleasure to read.
Comradery and friendships was also another element that was very well executed, and things got quite… interesting to say the least. I really liked how close knit the community of soldiers were, and how (most of them) look out for one another. In hindsight however, I guess it becomes instinct if you’re trained that way. And also, the Ancient Romans were a fan of fighting in groups unlike the Greeks, so I guess that’s where that came from.
This book definitely lives up to the hype that was surrounding it when it was released! I’m so glad that there will be a sequel. Although this book did wrap up the loose ends quite nicely, there’s still so many unanswered questions, and so much of this complex world to explore. My only regret is that I didn’t read it earlier, but then if I’d read it earlier, I would’ve had longer to wait longer for the sequel. So I’m glad I didn’t.