Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy
Synopsis: 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.
Would I recommend? Great for people who enjoy fantasy, political intrigue and a potential revolution.
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This book has been getting nothing but rave reviews all over the book community. Critics have loved it, reviewers have spent every praise they had on this book. The hype surrounding it has been crazy, and I was beyond excited going into this book. Since the last couple of over-hyped books were disappointing for me, I tried to keep my expectations low. Although it did take me a while to get through it (I mean, it is a big book; also, I’m on vacation), I thoroughly enjoyed it. It lived up to the hype, and I’m very excited to get my hands on the next book in the series.
I’m not going to summarize the plot in this review, mainly because I went into this book without knowing anything, and it worked out pretty well for me. All you should know is that it somewhat involves a reimagining of the Roman empire; the Martials rule over the Scholars- the former have a formidable rule, and the latter are oppressed and inferior-class citizens. The book has dual perspective. We follow Laia, a Scholar girl who finds herself in a sticky, dangerous situation, and Elias, a Martial cadet who seems to be questioning the integrity of the Empire.
The dual perspective worked really well for this book, because you got to see from the viewpoints of two polar-opposite ends of the class-system in the Empire. Tahir switches the perspectives fairly quickly too, so it doesn’t feel dragged, so even though the book started off a little slow for me in the beginning, it picked up the pace quickly. Another thing I really enjoyed was how Sabaa Tahir incorporated elements of her cultural-descent into the novel. I’m aware that she’s of Pakistani descent, and many – if not all – of the Scholar names were ones that are common in Pakistan, such as Sana, Tariq etc. Some of the ‘fantasy’ words included are also words found in the Urdu language, such as ‘kehanni’ and – most notably, perhaps – ‘izzat.’ The fleeting familiarity with the language added a layer to this book that I wasn’t expecting.
Sabaa Tahir has crafted a fantastic, detailed world full of paranormal creatures, an interesting political system, and rebellion. Much of this one felt like a set-up for future books, which is why I was a little surprised that this was marketed as a stand-alone. There is so much that is yet to be resolved. The ending was the definition of a cliff-hanger. There was no question that this book was the start of a series!
The characters were well-developed. They had very distinct, consistent personalities. Elias was the character I liked the most from among the main characters. The entire idea that he was the Commandant’s son who questioned the authority in the Empire made his character complex. His inner conflict regarding choosing what he thought was the right thing to do or choosing what was his duty to do was interesting to read about, and it was not predictable, as I initially thought it would be. His relationship with his best friend, Helene, added another layer of loyalty to his character.
Speaking of Helene, I really enjoyed her character. One of the things that impresses me about someone’s writing skills is if I don’t particularly like a person, but I enjoy reading their character anyways because they are so well-written and different. Helene was one of those characters. I wouldn’t really want to be best friends with Helene, but she was loyal, fierce and clever which made her a great character to read about.
The only problem I had with this book was Laia. I didn’t much care about Laia, even though her character was well-developed. She had a consistent personality type throughout, but the problem is- I didn’t like this personality type. I liked how compassionate she was, but I wish Sabaa Tahir had given her a little more intelligence. I found myself calling Laia stupid multiple times.
I usually refrain from using strange adjectives to describe writing, but I have to say that the writing in this one was delicious. I was devouring it. Sabaa Tahir has a way with words; she uses figurative language, but the right amount. Her writing flows smoothly- it doesn’t feel forced. I refuse to believe that this is Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel. The writing was like honey and butter on bread, and I cannot wait what else this lady has in store for me next.