“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 fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible to fight it: your spirit. You heart.”
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published on April 28,2016 by Razorbill
Rating – 5/5
To start off, this book was receiving serious hype on booktube/ book blogging and I have to say that it exceeded my expectations. It is a dark and brutal setting but that is what made you feel for these characters so much. I never worried so much for the characters in any other book before and this is what kept me on the edge the whole time. I honestly couldn’t stop reading and I ended up finishing this at 4AM. This has got to be my favorite book of the year! GOD the amount of FEELS! It was a clear 5/5 for me with just one minor flaw which I overlooked because of an awesome plotline.
This novel follows the POV of two different characters, Laia and Elias. Laia is part of the scholar community which is a group that the Martial Empire had conquered and now they are living under their leadership. Elias is a top soldier in training in Blackcliff Academy which is run by a brutal leader called the Commandant and through her leadership it becomes such a cruel and ruthless training facility to be a part of. Through a sequence of events, Laia’s brother Darin is captured by the Masks – soldiers of the Empire – and that is when she decides to try to get him back. By seeking help from the resistance, she agrees to be a spy for them at Blackcliff Academy and in return, they would help find her brother. So Laia poses as a slave to enter the Academy and that is where she meets Elias and they soon discover that their future goals might be intertwined.
This is the general overview of the plot but there is so much more depth and intrigue to the story. Sabaa Tahir also adds plenty of action into the plotline with the Trials for a New Emperor and I have to say the setup and the concept behind it was so interesting. This was because she did add a bit of fantasy/paranormal element to it since each test was different (Courage, Cleverness/Cunning, Strength, Loyalty). She also introduces the Augurs who are beings that can predict the future who provide an interesting arc to the story. This book does have a bit more darker themes as opposed to the other books I have read but Sabaa Tahir weaves them into the story so flawlessly that you actually believe that this world is real.
- Laia – Innocent, Fearful, yet Spirited and Determined. Laia is honestly a breath of fresh air for me because so many leads from other YA novels have the same qualities of “Katniss,” “Celena” or “Princess Lia” but I truly do appreciate Sabaa for not taking that route with this novel. Despite her weaknesses, Laia goes through a great transformation which I loved. Her drive for facing any hardships is due to her love for her brother and that was truly heartwarming which made her character seem so real and believable.
- Elias – Strong, Broken from the Past, Hesitant about expressing views. Elias is an interesting character and Sabaa did a great job portraying him as a soldier but also as a regular boy who does question his beliefs, borders on friendship and ability to trust in himself and figure himself out. Like Laia, he undergoes a remarkable transformation as well. For those of you who have read the book, can we please take a moment to appreciate the amount of sass he has at the end of the book? OMG, I LOVED IT!
- Helene – Strong, Brave, Fighter. Helene is a fighter/soldier in this novel and I honestly had mixed feelings about her. She is a good friend to Elias, which was great but I didn’t like that she was supportive of the empire despite their actions. I feel like I would need to know more about her to have a proper understanding to her character since she does jump back and forth. I think the second book may help in this since we are probably going to have chapters written in her perspective.
- Kennan – Second-in-Command of the Resistance, Strong, Blunt but Softhearted. Kennan initially didn’t believe that Laia could complete her mission successfully but he does become attached to her and helps her realize that despite everything that she has been through, she is a survivor.
This book was hands down amazing. I loved everything from the plot, the characters and the wonderful subtext in not giving into fear, believing in oneself and sticking up for what is right. Laia grows from a fearful girl to a survivor while Elias grows from being a robot/puppet soldier to a person who is not afraid to stand by his own opinions. There were so many quotes in the book which I absolutely loved. One would be the following:
“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 its there. Don’t let them take it from you.”
The only thing that bothered me was the weird love square between the four main characters since I didn’t really think a few love lines between some characters were that necessary. This was just one minor flow which I overlooked since the plot was amazing. My favorite scene would probably have to be the Moon Festival – this was probably the only time I actually smiled in the book lol, omg it was too cute! I am looking forward for the sequel. Hopefully, it will continue to be awesome!
If you guys like a Dystopian/Fantasy read which takes place in a world inspired from the Roman Empire, I highly suggest that you all pick this one up. I LOVED IT ❤