Review Detail4.5 6
What worked: OMG, everything! This book reminded me so much of Gladiator meets THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS. The suspense and tension pulls the reader on an emotional pack ride through a fantasy world based on Rome where betrayals, danger, and forbidden love are around every corner.
Laia doesn't think she's as courageous as her famed Resistance mother who died under the Masks and often doubts herself. But I disagree. Her love of her older brother drives her to continue to spy for the Resistance even when she's tortured by the sadist Commandant, who happens to be the mother of Elias. Laia also struggles with her attraction not only to Elias but to Keenan, a Resistant follower.
Did I mention how many feels are throughout this book? Omg, this is one of the huge strengths of this novel. You feel the pain Laia has by witnessing the massacre of her grandparents. The pain of being tortured for simple acts of not being fast enough for the Commandant. And the feelings that grow between her and Elias, a love she knows can't go anywhere.
Elias also has his own struggles which include not being good enough for his mother(her own ending reveal will tear at you), to an attraction he feels for his best friend Helene, another Mask who he has to compete against in order to win at being the next Emperor(something he doesn't want). He's up against rivalry at the academy between Marcus, a ruthless Mask who will do anything in order to quell Elias's chances of succeeding.
The love between Elias and Laia is slow building but when it gets to this one scene, you just know the fates have lead them to be together.
There's so many other great things about this novel--the world building is amazing with vivid descriptions of the Blackcliff academy, the trials all go through, the desert people with their tales of mythological creatures that might in fact be real, and the creepy Augurs, beings who can't die but are in charge of a series of tests to find the next Emperor. The trials are cruel and ruthless.
All this helps move the story along with twists and turns and surprises at the end. There's also some bittersweetness that had me teary eyed and hoping that the next book comes out soon!
Amazing action packed romantic fantasy where following your heart has it's own bittersweet consequences. This is a must read book for all fantasy fans that lives up to it's hype and more!