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 that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. 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 know, I know. What the heck does 4.5 stars out of 5 mean?! Well, I’ll tell you. It means I loved this book, but I honestly haven’t decided if I love it enough to make it one of our Required Reads. The core plot idea isn’t necessarily new, but I really love the way Sabaa Tahir created her world and her characters in An Ember in the Ashes. This novel is told both from Laia’s point of view and from Elias’s point of view. It really let you fall in love with both characters and understand their individual motivations in the book. And I really do love both Laia and Elias!
I think I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I love when authors don’t tell you straight up what something means or explicitly point out the connections between things the characters experience and realizations they might come to later in the story. I think we’re all smart enough to make those same connections ourselves, and I appreciate an author who respects that. I did think Laia was a little naive at certain points in the novel. And Elias was very idealistic and human for someone who grew up as he did, even given his early life with the tribes.
This novel was a little dark. Many of the characters are cruel and violent. The detail isn’t terribly explicit, but I’m not sure I would read this book if you are easily triggered by violence, torture, and cruel mind games. Like I said, it wasn’t terribly explicit (coming from someone who had nightmares and had to take a few days off reading Black Flags because of the detailed description of an individuals death), but I do think it merits a heads-up before jumping into the novel!
But at the end of the day, I could not put this novel down, and I immediately read the sequel. I really wanted to know what happened to all the characters. I’m very excited for the rest of the series to come out, and I will be reviewing all the books on their own!