Don’t be fooled by the Young Adult genre thingy that this book fits into… this world is absolutely brutal. Slavery, torture, rape, and barbaric executions are the norm in the heartless Martial Empire. And the author doesn’t shy away from the details, let me tell you.
The book starts off with sad murders and the story’s main shero, Laia, a member of the oppressed Scholar people, setting off on an undercover mission as a slave. Unfortunately for her, the mission requires her to be the property of the indescribably cruel Bitch of Blackcliff Academy (the Martial Empire’s military training centre for a elite group known as Masks). Let’s just say the Bitch of Blackcliff is so twisted her last slave committed suicide.
Laia starts off the mission as an awkward mess who will almost certainly fail and die, but really grows into a stronger person as the story progresses. Anyone who can survive all the pain deserves a freaking medal. Also in attendance at Blackcliff is Elias Veturius, a Mask-in-training who isn’t nearly as hardhearted as his classmates. The author flips back and forth between Elias and Laia’s first person perspectives which I thought was very well done. I won’t ruin anything but there are neat twists and the story ends with a cool boom.
What I didn’t like, at all, was the forced romance-y parts that I didn’t care about in the least (there are TWO freaking love triangles for crying out loud). I doubt the characters’ burning love for each other is all that important when they’re going through this hell, no? It just didn’t seem “real” to me. Elias and Laia seem designed for each other, with their respective runner up people just being there to advance the romance subplot I didn’t care about. Meh! That’s where the YA label comes from, I guess.
Overall, this was a great read in a nice writing style. The chilling cruelness of this world shook me quite a bit. The romance parts were completely unnecessary in my mind… but I have a very low tolerance for romance in any form of media. If I don’t feel the emotional connection between the characters I’m gonna hate it. My guess is that most people will enjoy the love triangles and all that, so power to them!
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