Author: Sabaa Tahir
Started: November 21, 2018
Finished: November 22, 2018
Genre: Young Adult
First Sentence: My big brother reaches home in the dark hours before dawn, when even ghosts take their rest.
Summary: [From BN] 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.
Thoughts: This books is a mix of the roman empire meets the hunger games meets dramatic high school. I can't remember why this book ended up on my to read list but I'm glad it did because OMGITSSOADDICTIVE! I spent far too many nights reading up past my bedtime devouring the pages. I, who hates flying, even looked forward to our flights to Bermuda because it would give uninterrupted reading time. Any book that makes air travel more enjoyable is fine by me.
What works most about this book is the world building. Tahir gives you just enough information to set the scene and backstory without falling into the abyss of the info dump. She sets the structure and your imagination fills in the rest. Her world borrows heavily from the Roman empire but there is enough new stuff to keep the book from feeling like a recreation of a Caesar story.
In addition to the world, the characters that inhabit the lands are fascinating. Tahir develops a social and political structure that feels realistic and timeless. The major characters come from different parts of society which helps to create the drama in the story. Their actions come from deeply held motivations that are completely understandable without turning them in to stock characters. Everyone comes with a bit of gray to them (which I love!). And, yes, there is romance which is a large motivation for the book but, in this story, it doesn't feel like the main plot line. Laia, our heroine, has feelings for two guys but she is prioritizing saving her brother cause that's what family does. Elias is driven by both societal expectations and the knowledge that the Empire he fights for is cruel and unfair. Even the secondary main characters have nuances to their character. No one is perfect and no one's story has been fully told yet which keeps the book moving.
Top all of this off with a nice does of fantasy and mysticism and you've got one hell of a story.
I placed a library hold on book 2 while I was on vacation so that it would be ready for me to pick up as soon as we got back.
Spoiler alert - two chapters in to book 2 and I placed the third (and finally - sad face) book on hold.
Rating: 7/10 [Very Good]