Written by Sabaa Tahir

Published by Razorbill, April 28 2015

My star rating: 4 stars

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. (Goodreads)

When this book was released it was getting a TON of buzz – and in fact, it still is! This book was everywhere and everyone was talking about it. And now I know why! This book has a bit of everything.

This book is told from two perspectives. Laia, who is a scholar, and Elias, who is a mask. Laia’s parents and sister were killed many years ago leaving her and her brother to be raised by their grandparents. She knows her brother is a part of something he shouldn’t be but he kept his movements a secret. On the night we are introduced to the story their house is raided, her grandparents killed, her brother taken captive, while Laia runs for her life. Elias is a mask in training only days away from his graduation, but he’s not convinced of his own loyalties. He was raised a certain way and this school is teaching him to be loyal to the Empire, who’s views differ from how he was raised. Not only that but, even though he is easily the strongest person in their class at Blackcliff Academy, he doesn’t fit in as expected. Many years ago the Empire took the lands from the Scholars so now they are forced to serve and be slaves. They are looked at as if they are less human and are disposable. I love how this story has a perspective from each side of the line.

When I said earlier that this book has everything – I meant it! There’s slavery, spies, a resistance, a training school, magic, trials, prophecies, friendships, love triangles, battles, folklore… the list could go on! And out of all the things that I listed my favourite part was the folklore. There were aspects about how things were before the Empire conquered the lands being told by tribal people, and there were also these strange creatures that played small parts throughout the book that were so dark and interesting. These creatures were believed to be long gone but here they were. They weren’t entire explained and I have a feeling they will continue to play a part throughout this series.

The setting was based on ancient Rome and had a very brutal, barbaric, medieval feel. The world building wasn’t as detailed as I wished it was at times but I loved the general feel of how each side lived. The world that was outside of Blackcliff Academy was equally as dark and interesting and we got a quick glimpse at that during the trials. I hope that as the series continues it will take us past the Academy so I can build this world more completely in my mind.

The politics in this book was SOOO well done! It’s an interesting time in this world where a new Emperor must be named. And when there is a possible shift in power each side uses their allies and secrets to their advantage so they can turn the tables in their favour. Each side thinks they have the upper hand at times but, as per usual, they aren’t privy to the entire situation as a whole and things can come crashing down in an instant. One minute you think the world is yours and the next minute you’re bleeding in the dirt. I won’t even attempt to explain the politics as there are far too many characters and factors that went into this. Just trust me – it’s good!

I wish that I could explain more about this book but this is one that I think is best going into blind. I had no clue what was going to happen and who to trust. Each character seemed to have an understanding and a secret, and you had to wait until it all came together to understand it as a whole. Right from the very first chapter there is so much action and almost anything I say could be a spoiler!

Have you read this one? What was your favourite part? I always love a spoilery discussion!

Until next time, happy reading!