A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I went on vacation and read a bunch of wonderful books. And I am still struggling to catch up with those reviews. Sadly, the two book reviews that will suffer the most from my lack of reviewing effort are two of the best — Red Shirts by John Scalzi, and this one.
A few Cannonballers have already read this (honestly, I’m shocked that this hasn’t been more of a “thing”): you can read excellent reviews from narfna and ElCicco that are way more lucid and detailed than anything I might come up with. But we all agree that this first entry (into what I can only imagine will be a TRILOGY) into Sabaa Tahir’s world really works.
It has everything: a strong, young (and of course BEAUTIFUL) heroine, willing to do whatever it takes to keep what’s left of her family together; a brutal society that values strength and brutality over knowledge and learning; a handsome and skeptical hero, who isn’t quite sure what it is he’s fighting for; and subtle instances of magic, but no so much that it overwhelms the story and crosses directly into Fantasy.
Because I am old and my memory is for crap, I’ll give you this blurb from Amazon:
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 really enjoyed it. I’ll admit, it starts off slowly. But once Laia is focused on her mission and how she can help her brother, I was all in. Yes, the book was brutally violent, and at times I questioned it’s YA label. It reminded me a lot of Red Rising — both authors have clearly done their research on the Roman Empire — which was not YA (remember the great debate we had about that?). But it was strong, and I’ll definitely continue with the series.
Sorry, Sabaa Tahir. You deserved better than my Amazon-heavy recap. I promise to do better next time.