Thanks to Brigitte Herron for writing and submitting this recap!
After her family is slaughtered and her brother is taken captive by The Martial Empire (an empire largely inspired by the roman one), Laia makes a deal with the resistance: they rescue her brother from prison while she goes undercover at Blackcliff Military Academy in order to gather information for them on The Trials. While pretending the be the Commandant’s slave she meets Elias Veturius, the Commandant’s son.
Elias, whose sole desire is to escape the life chosen for him as the Empire’s assassin, find himself participating in The Trials because an Augur promised him that was the only way he could truly be free.
As the story progresses, Laia and Elias grow closer while uncovering some pretty shady business on both the resistance’s side as well as the Commandant’s, up until the Trials end, the current emperor is killed, the new one is chosen and the two are forced to flee as fugitives.
what went down
- Darin, Laia’s brother, is captured by a Mask while the rest of her family is killed
- Elias is getting ready to desert Blackcliff once he graduates but an Augur warns him against it and promises true freedom if he stays at the Academy.
- Laia makes a deal with the resistance: save my brother and I’ll infiltrate Blackcliff for you
- Elias, Helene Aquilla, Marcus and Zak Farrar are chosen as Aspirants to participate in the Trials
- During the first Trial, Elias has to come to terms with his greatest fear: turning into a ruthless assassin. However Marcus and Zak corner him and Helene, she’s hurt and he has to get both of them to the finish line or face execution for failing the task.
- Laia takes a letter to the resistance but she’s discovered and the Commandant carves a ‘K’ into her chest
- The Commandant dead set against seeing her son win to the point where she helps Marcus and Zak cheat in the Trials
- Elias helps Laia after she keels over from her infected wound, but she keeps reminding herself not to trust him. While she’s being nursed back to health, Cook, a slave in charge of cooking, tells her about being in the resistance, being found out and what the Commandant did to her.
- During the second Trial, the Aspirants come face to face with supernatural beings, which were considered myths. Elias is hit and Helene heals him by singing to him. While he’s recovering she tries to make a move but he rejects her.
- Laia is charged with being the messenger between the Commandant and a Telluman swordsmith, and she finds out he’s the reason her brother was captured as Darin was his apprentice and was helping him make blades to fight against the Empire.
- The Commandant has allied herself with The Nightbringer, the leader of the Efrits, and they are plotting against everyone to rule the Empire through the Aspirant they have chosen to back.
- In order to meet with the resistance, Laia, along with Izzi, a slave who’s in charge of cleaning the kitchen, sneak out to attend a festival while Elias follows them. Once there, Laia meets with Keenan to pass on the information, before dancing with Elias.
- When the resistance gives Laia an utlimatum: find a way to get us into Blackcliff or we won’t be able to save your brother, she and Izzi find a secret tunnel but Laia is caught by Marcus. Elias find her just in time but he can’t do anything to save her, instead he asks Helene to heal her, which she does rather reluctantly.
- During the third Trial Elias’s and Helene’s platoons fight against each other until one of the two leaders bests the other. Elias manages to corner Helene and is declared the victor. His ‘prize’ is a night with Laia, during which some backstory is exposed, they kiss, and Laia discovers a new way to get the resistance into Blackcliff.
- During the fourth Trial, the Aspirants are asked to kill Laia, the Emperor is attacked and killed by the resistance, and Elias commits mutiny while trying to protect Laia. His act of rebellion gets him a death sentence, Helene the title of Blood Shrike, and Marcus the title of Emperor.
- The resistance betrays Laia so she finds a way to save her brother herself: she frees Elias and they flee.
how did it end?
During the Third Trial, the Commandant receives news that the resistance has attacked the Emperor and killed him. Meanwhil Elias refuses to execute Laia and he even tries to protect her but to no avail. His insubordination is punished and he is sentenced to death while Helene pledges herself as Blood Shrike to the new Emperor, Marcus. Unbeknownst to them, Laia is still alive thanks to the Augurs and sets off to meet with the resistance in order to grant them passage to save her brother, but the leader betrays her so she takes matters into her own hands and enlists the help of Cook and Izzi to free Elias and use his knowledge and skill set to free Darin.
In order to do this she blocks the execution, frees Elias and flees with him through the tunnel he’d dug out to desert in the beginning of the book, but not before Helene find them and confesses that she’d always known her was going to live and that’s the only reason she followed the orders she was given. Her final act is to remove his mask, which still hasn’t melded to his face, and buy them a bit of time to escape with a headstart
Augurs: Humans who, once upon a time, dabbled with the spirits of the dead and have become immortal being who can read minds, influence an empire, and heal at will
Gens: a family
Aspirant: a contestant competing to become the new Emperor
Commandant: the chief of Blackcliff Military Academy
Izzat: Freedom in the Scholar language
Centurion: payed soldier
The Trials: a series of four tests used to determine the best candidate for Emperor
a Mask: The Martial Empire’s most ruthless soldiers. They are elite assassins trained since the age of six to kill
Blood Shrike: Head of the Black Guard and right hand of the Emperor
The Black Guard: Elite forces of the Emperor
Scholars: the oppressed people conquered by the Empire
Kehanni: a storyteller
Illustrian: a member of the highest social class
Pater: the head of a family
Ghul: a supernatural creature resembling a ghoul which often takes on the appearance of a loved one in order to hurt the person who can see it
Efrit: a spirit that commands an element