This is a book I thought sounded really good, but I didn’t request it on either Edelweiss or Netgalley for some reason. But then I walked into the Barnes and Noble where I work part time and saw it sitting on the manager’s desk one day. I asked right away if I could have it, and I am so glad I did! I loved this book. It got 5 stars from me on Goodreads. So I guess I’d have to thank the bookstore where I work, as well as the publisher, Razorbill Books and Penguin Teen, for sending a review copy to them.
This book is set in a world or time period similar to maybe our Ancient Rome. There are two main characters, Laia and Elias. Laia is a member of the Scholars, the people that were defeated by the Martials and now live pretty dangerous lives. Never knowing if they could be accused of doing something against the emperor, or stolen and turned into slaves. Elias is a soldier, one of the best, for the Martials. He is what they call a Mask. These soldiers wear silver masks, masks that as they continue on in their training and schooling, eventually settle onto their faces, growing to be attached. Except for Elias. Unlike what he should be doing, he takes his off every day, he may be one of the best in the academy, but he wants nothing more than to be far away from the empire and the horrible things that he has been a part of and watched as he grew up. Laia has an older brother who draws things. He goes off during the day instead of helping their grandparents with their healing treatments and Laia wonders what secrets he is keeping. She sees the things he draws, pictures of people being punished with beatings, or being executed. He also has drawings of weapons, weapons that he probably shouldn’t have ever seen. In fact, the night that Laia sees these drawings in his book, the Masks pay their family a visit. Looking for the notebook of drawings. In the scuffle their grandparents are killed, and as they go to take her brother as prisoner, it is alluded to that she will be taken and raped, or killed. So when her brother tells her to run, she does. Even though she feels like a coward afterwards for leaving him.
Laia goes to the Resistance and asks for their help to try to break her brother out. It turns out she has a bigger connection to them, her parents were part of the Resistance, a big part, before they were killed. In order to save her brother, the leader gets Laia a position as a servant for the Commandant and asks her to spy. Only life with the Commandant is a death threat every other minute. One slave girl there already has an eye that was taken. The Cook’s face is horribly disfigured from some other punishment. And the first day Laia is there, she gets a beating. But Laia does her best to stick with it, to find some piece of information that will not only help the Resistance in their fight, but also help them to get her brother out.
Elias has plans to run as soon as he graduates. But those plans change when one of the Augers tells him that he has a choice. The Augers know everything, and predict what will happen. But this one doesn’t give Elias’s plans away. He only tells him that if he does run, he will become the type of person that he is trying to run from becoming. And if he stays, he may have the chance to make things better. Also right at this time Elias runs into Laia at his mother’s house. Not that his mother has any love for him. She is this cruel Commandant, and she left him to die in the desert when he was a baby. It was only his grandfather who found him and took him in when he was younger that has brought Elias to where he is now. But Elias wants only to go back to the life with one of the Tribes that he knew at the beginning of his life. Shortly after graduation, which Elias decides to stay, something called the Trials begin. Four of the graduates are chosen to be possible successors to the current Emperor. These Trials are horrific though. They could die just from being in them. And if they don’t at least finish the trials, they will be killed for that. They must win two of the four to be the final winner. But there are some who seem willing to sabotage Elias’s chance. And then they are set up to fight and have to kill their own friends and comrades.
Together Elias and Laia will meet and in a way, have somewhat of a similar goal. To escape the horrors of this place, hopefully alive. While Laia’s main thought is to survive only to save her brother’s life, she will find that she can’t actually trust those that she hopes can help her. And Elias will learn that his closest friends may have things they have kept from him, and that they may not be able to understand what it is he wants.
Wow, I’ve said all that stuff, and I don’t feel like I’ve given a very good description of the book. It is soooooo much more than what I’ve said here. The characters are so good, believable. No instant-love, only some possible attraction. Bad guys that even when given possible excuses for their reasons behind their evil, you still hate them. All I know now is that I have to wait until there is a sequel, because I need to know what will happen next for Elias and Laia with the way the book left off.