Here’s the thing: this is Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel, as in she’s never published anything before this. What’s crazy about it? The hype before it came out was insane. Everyone was talking about it! Rumor has it that they’re already working on a movie!
I’m always a bit cautious with things like this, though. Inevitably, the book, movie, or whatever is a let down. There’s so much buildup that when you actually experience the thing, you come out disappointed (to be honest, this happened with The Hunger Games for me and a few of my friends).
Similarly, I don’t want to gush all the things I love about this and have it be a let down for you, but I’ll probably end up gushing anyway. This book is so good.
Here’s a rundown of the book (credit to goodreads because I’m too gosh darn lazy to come up with an interesting blurb):
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 theEmpire’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.
This book deals with some heavy stuff. Abuse, threats of rape, and oh my god, chapters 38 and 40 broke my heart into a million tiny pieces almost at the severity of what happened to Nikolai Lantsov in Ruin and Rising, but maybe not. I think the order of “these characters are my babies and no one can touch them or hurt them or say anything bad about them ever” goes Nikolai Lantsov, Draco Malfoy, and then Elias Veturius or however it’s spelled. Seriously — don’t touch my babies.
Each chapter goes back and forth between Laia and Elias’s point of view, and it’s done really masterfully. The whole book is done extremely well, especially for a debut novel, which makes it that much better. If I hadn’t known off the bat that it’s a debut, I wouldn’t have believed it after reading it. I can’t even think of any critique (though that might be because it’s been several weeks since I finished it).
There have been a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads, and rightly so. In my honest opinion, the dystopian trilogy is really hard to do, and not many do it well. Whether or not it becomes a trilogy (which it probably will, because that’s what the current market trend is), I hope the ongoing books continue to be written as well as this first one.