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 had to revisit this before Torch Against the Night comes out. And did you all hear, Tahir was signed for two more in the series, TWO!
These characters are top notch, Laia and Elias are great, but all the secondary characters are too. Helene is so interesting and she and Elias make a great team in the school. Izzi, Cook, and Keenan push Laia in different ways for her to realize her potential. And Teluman, I didn’t realize in my first read just how influential he is with all his sage advice.
Both Elias and Laia show so much growth throughout the story, but it’s never a reach for them, it’s a natural development and they push each other to become the individuals they yearn to be. I have seen a ton of love for Helene in reviews, and while I think she’s a great character, I’m not as enamored of her. She is definitely a bad ass, and she is loyal to her friends and her country, but she’s not what Elias needs to achieve his goals. She does what she can to help Elias without breaking her word to the Empire, but I wasn’t sad to see the two of them part ways in the end, and it will be really interesting to see how they meet again since Elias and Helene are now “enemies.”
The trials and the spy network make this book so much fun, there is always something going on. With each trial we learn a bit more about Elias, and each time Laia takes another risk to rescue her brother she unveils a different part of herself that she wasn’t sure existed. Both sets of challenges also expose the brutality of the Empire, the Commandant, and even Elias and his peers. I really enjoyed that even though both characters are going through all these horrible experiences, they both react in ways that make them more caring, compassionate, and moral.
Most of the complaints about this that I saw dealt with the romantic interests. First, I thought it was really well balanced, never overtaking the main story line or distracting the characters too much from their goals (though certainly Elias is driven to certain actions because of Laia). Without trying to be too spoilery I will say that the two main characters have an attraction, and then both main characters have someone from their own world they are attracted too. Personally, I like the two main characters together, I think they push each other just the right amount, and though they are different on many levels, they have the same core values. Also, some people said they were disappointed that there was no clear choice of who the MC’s pick, that I think is completely wrong, I think it was clear about half way through the book who they were going to choose and blatantly obvious by the end of it all.
I’m so glad we are getting another installment, and hope this series continues. I can’t wait to see how Laia and Elias deal with the challenge of rescuing her brother. I also hope we see more of how the two will play into the larger issue of a rebellion, and obviously if their romance developes.