For years Laia has lived in fear. Fear of the Empire, fear of the Martials, fear of truly living at all. Born as a Scholar, she’s never had much of a choice. For Elias it’s the opposite. He has seen too much on his path to becoming a Mask, one of the Empire’s elite soldiers. With the Masks’ help the Empire has conquered a continent and enslaved thousands of Scholars, all in the name of power.
When Laia’s brother is taken she must force herself to help the Resistance, the only people who have a chance of saving him. She must spy on the Commandant, ruthless overseer of Blackcliff Academy. Blackcliff is the training ground for Masks and the very place that Elias is planning to escape. If he succeeds, he will be named deserter. If found, the punishment will be death. But once Laia and Elias meet, they find that their destinies are intertwined and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire.
In the ashes of a broken world one person can make a difference. One voice in the dark can be heard. The price of freedom is always high and this time that price might demand everything, even life itself.
Set in a war-driven country, where Laia belongs to the enslaved section and Elias to the enslaving part, this book has a lot of potential. Sadly, right at the start of the book, it goes on info-dump mode, which I honestly prefer to be disseminated throughout the first half at the very least, not like the first 10% of a book. It is very fast-paced, with a competition for the throne going on, spy missions, diabolic characters, and a touch of the supernatural with creatures like ifrits, ghuls, and djinns making an appearance. Romance-wise, it was a bit predictable with the love quadrangle forming but I was more focused on the story so I could ignore that. One thing I found disturbing was the casual way the Martials were about sexual assault; there was a threat looming all the time and it was upsetting.
As the book went on, I started to appreciate the complexity of the plot and the attention paid to character development. Laia has to learn to be a warrior like her mother, in the face of extreme duress and torture, while Elias has to figure out at what point he will draw the line and dissent from his people. There is Helene, Elias’ childhood friend, whom he is slightly attracted to, but not in love with. She, however, is in love with him, and wants to win the throne for him. The main antagonist is stereotypical, and uninteresting, but I was very much interested in the Commander and her ties to the supernatural. Seems to me that the best thing about the book was the potential that it created for a good sequel. Overall, the book is mostly predictable but it is an enjoyable read, nevertheless.