Published April 28th 2015 by Razorbill
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.
Laia and her family do not want to make trouble – they want to help the people around them the best they can and survive. One night her brothers name is turned in by members of the rebellion and their lives are forever changed. Her grandparents are murdered – her brother is imprisoned and she is on the run looking for the only group that might be able to help her. In exchange for their promise to save her brother – she goes into the brutal military academy to be the slave of the very woman who killed her parents. She is beaten, bruised and scarred but she does not give up.
“You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
Elias is one of the top soldiers of the Empire. Abandoned at birth by a heartless mother – he was left to grow up within the desert tribes only to be taken once more and brought to the academy at the age of 6 to be trained to be a ruthless mask. After years of surviving in the darkest and most dangerous of places he is days from freedom – after graduation he plans to flee from the empire once and for all. This all changes when he is visited by a man of the holy augers who convinces him that the only way he will ever be free is to stay.
“You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”
Laia and Elias paths cross in the dark passages of the castle. They are drawn to each other even though they are on different side of a brutal society. He is not the heartless soldier that she thinks he is – and she is not the weak slave girl that she appears to be.
There is a great deal of growth in the character of Laia – she believes herself to be weak and a coward for running when the masks raided her home; But by the end of this first book she is strong, smart and fearless
“I do not doubt, I do not hesitate. I am the Lioness’s daughter, and I have the Lioness’s strength.”
This was an AMAZING first book in a series that I am very excited to read. There are so many different levels of plot but it never leaves you feeling overwhelmed or lost. All the characters capture your attention – the secondary characters definitely have a pull that make you interested in what is happening with them.
This book contains many scenes that may not be appropriate for all readers. There are scenes of violence – death – murder – torture – and rape. There is a magical undertone – that I think will have more of a plot line in the following novels – that is quite dark. I would suggest this book for readers in the late teens to adult.