This book you guys... This book.
Checkout the goodreads bio:
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.
From the very first sentence, 'Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.'
I knew I would love this novel, and I did. There is pace, tension, love, bravery, humour and a new type of heroine, at least for me.
Unlike many of the heroines in YA at the moment, Laia doesn't eat hearts for breakfast. After unforeseeable events, she starts a journey to rescue her brother, and this journey places her in situations that she has no experience in handling. She doesn't fight, wield weapons or have a tomboyish air about her. She is frightened constantly, uncomfortable, and at points her refrain of rhetorical questions were quite grating, but these aided in her overall likability for me in the end. She taught me not to underestimate.
Elias on the other hand is strong and fast- the very best soldier in the Empire, but he wants out. For me he was a stronger character than Laia. I think we were just privy to a little more of his world in the chapters. Serving under the Commandant - who is a hella crazy, like psychotic - meeting the Angurs, his childhood... I found that whilst I sympathised with Laia, I empathised with Elias. He taught me that blood does not equal family, and that blood does not define who you are.
My unsung hero is Helene. I wanted to dislike her because she was a third wheel on a five wheel vehicle - oh yes, there are fetching two love triangles - but I felt for her. Unrequited love sucks. Especially when you are a strong independent woman who don't need no man, and you've saved the life of the man you love on multiple occasions, and to thank you he runs off with another woman...
That aside, I loved the language, the setting and character development throughout this book. I loved that the world was new and interesting. It was also ruthless, bloody, magical, oppressive and just saturated with life. And pinioned against this backdrop are a cast of characters I championed and hated.
Can't wait to receive book 2 for Christmas!