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.
I started this book with really high expectations, since there was so much hype about it, and, boy, I wasn’t disappointed! Not even a little bit!
Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.
Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, while her granparents are killed by masks, she manages to run, taking with her a lot of guilt and shame because she couldn’t find the courage to fight for her brother. Unfortunately there was nothing she could have done, but now, on the run, she wants to find the rebellion and have them help her to break her brother free. There’s history between Laia’s family and the rebellion, so they decide to help her. But on one condition; she has to be sold as a slave to spy in the Empire’s military school.
“There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.”
Laia is just a scared girl, but she won’t leave her brother alone to die, and that gives her the strength to fight, and take whatever is thrown at her. She’s beaten, tortured, phisically and mentally, but she pushes through it all, it changes her, but she keeps her head held high, as much as she can. For her brother, for herself. She’s a character I will never forget, and who taught me so much about love, honor, and self-respect.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
Elias is a student at Blackcliff, but he wants out, he was forced when he was 6 to swear fealty to the Empire, but he never believed in it, in its metods, in its cruelty. He plans to desert, but he finds himself once again stuck there, to partecipate in a trial to become the next Emperor, because he’s told that partecipating is the only way for him to find freedom of the body and the soul. He’s an incredibly complicated character, whom I adored since the first moment. He’ll have to face his fears, he’ll have to become who he never wanted to be, or die trying to keep his soul intact.
I look up at the stars hanging low in a sky that makes me think I’m seeing the infinite. But beneath their cold gaze, I feel small. All the beauty of the stars means nothing when life here on earth is so ugly.
When Elias and Laia meet don’t expect love at first sight, don’t expect much romance at all, honestly, just some tender moments, some sparks, and lots of feelings. They obviously catch each other attentions, and find they’re more alike than they thought possible, but they’re both dead set on their goals, and nothing will distract them. They both have some people in their lives they care about, and it was really beautiful and interesting to see how those relationships changed throughout the book.
“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.”
There are a lot of really emotional moments, that made me cry clutching my pillow to my chest. But there’s also a lot of hope, for a better future, for a better life, in a world, which the author built amazingly, ruled by fear and violence. Beautifully written, it drags you in, and makes you feel everything. It’ll make you fall in love with the characters, all with so much depth.
He puts on his mask, his face going still as it digs into him, and then pulls me to my feet. I stare at our hands, at my slim fingers entwined in his larger ones, at the veined muscles of his forearm, the slight bones of my wrist, the warmth of our skin meeting. It seems somehow significant, my hand in his.
Now, I can only impatiently wait for the second book.