Genre: Fantasy Age Range: YA Star Rating: 5/5 stars Series: Yes - book 1 of quartet
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.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
Tahir’s debut doesn’t pull any punches, the pacing is snappy and the story draws you in from the first page by throwing you right in the midst of the action. From there, mystery, adventure and danger unfurl as Elias and Laia’s adventures entwine.
The narration alternates between Laia and Elias. This causes one or two SEVEN DAYS AGO time jumps, or a few very short chapters to split up the other’s narration. It’s a little forced at times, but it generally isn’t noticeable.
The world is vast. Even though we only see a sliver – one city – there is a powerful sense of the rest of the world, through references slipped casually into conversations or recollections.
The world building itself is carefully woven into the story, through the objects used or stories the characters tell one another. The different cultures and factions contrast one another – the brutalism of the Martials, the solidarity of the Tribes, the mystery surrounding the jinn and the fire of the rebellion.
The magic isn’t flashy, far from the main attraction of the book. For much of the book, there isn’t any magic, just the ghuls and efrit. When the magic appears, it’s a subtle power that fits perfectly into the world and add to the atmosphere. The mythology twines around it, slowly revealed little by little – but with a sense of far more to come.
I’m excited to move onto the next book, A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT.
Read my reviews of other books by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes (this series):