The book follows the lives of Laia and Elias and how they become intertwined as their paths cross.
Laia is a 17-year-old Scholar who is living with her brother Darin, 19, with their grandparents since their parents died. The Scholars were once the rulers of the Empire until the Martials took over the power and since then have oppressed and enslaved the Scholars. There are rebels and Scholars, the Resistance, who try to fight against their suppressors such as the parents of Laia and Darin.
One night when the two siblings are in their room they are raided by soldiers leaded by a Mask, an elite soldier, who are looking for Darin as they suspect he is a spy for the Resistance. Though their grandparents are killed, Laia can escape in exchange for the raiders getting their hands on Darin. Wandering around all alone, she tries to find the Resistance to ask them for their help to get her brother back. Not being treated very gently and confronted with disbelieve and doubt she agrees to spy on the vicious Commandant at Blackcliff, the training facility for the Masks.
There, Elias is in the final steps of his training to become a full Mask. He is the finest yet at the same time the student with the most doubts of the system. The academy becomes the stage of a competition to determine the next ruler just as it is predicted by the Augurs and Elias is one of the chosen competitors such as his friend Helen. Together they try to win the challenges, stay alive and not let their feelings for each other get the best of them.
The paths of Laia and Elias cross in a place they hate and fear and without knowing they start to depend and care for each other. As Laia attempts to gain information about her brother’s whereabouts and secrets the Resistance can use for their cause and Elias trying to escape his own prison at the academy, they have to take decisions that will change their lives and the lives of their friends as well.
I happened to find this book by accident as is was advertised on one of my bookmarks I got from my bookstore. Reading the summary on it, which was in German, I was not very convinced but searched online and the English description was much more appealing to me. So I decided to order the book and was super excited to start reading.
And it blew my mind. I started reading as soon as I could get my hands on the book around noon and was done sometimes in the same night. I literally could not put it down as Sabaa Tahir’s writing is so capturing I was totally lost in the story and the characters as they get more and more background and depth the farther you get into the story. You can understand their feelings, plans and hopes and why they take the actions they do.
Written from a first person point of view the chapters on each character do a good job on making you feel and see the way Laia or Elias take in their surroundings and situations. It is also easy to differentiate between the two main protagonists as the personality is reflected in the writing style. This way you also get to see how they grow on a task or are uncertain and sometimes weak on the inside yet overcome their fears to achieve their goal because they do these things more for others than for themselves. But just like every other person they are not perfect and they fail, they get hurt physically and mentally, and they sometime are at the edge of their strength.
The setting is described equally wonderful because enough space of the book is used so everything can be imagined while at the same time does not bore you to read through these passages. To keep track of the locations that the plot takes place there is a marvellous map at the beginning of the book.
I think this book is truly magnificent as I don’t get annoyed with the protagonists on any point of the story because even if they do things I wouldn’t do, from the way it is written I can understand their motives. Because of that and the well-crafted characters with flaws and everything I never had the feeling that the author introduces a storyline that just gets to be in the book because it is convenient for the progress of the main story.
I really am looking forward to the release of the second book to see how the story advances further with maybe utterly different sides of the protagonists because of new dangers or tasks they have to face.