I liked this book, but I'm not sure it deserved all the hype. While Laia was not a normal character in YA literature (finally, someone who's a little bit different,) but Elias is a fairly typical oblivious character who is rebelling against his government, who, unlike everyone around him, can see that what his people are doing is wrong.
Laia is afraid. She runs away. She has to learn how to get over her fear. She doesn't have the type of 'fiery' personality that most YA characters boast until they all start to seem the same. Laia is strong, but it is not obvious to her, or to us. Her strength is more subtle, even as she begins be more courageous.
Elias, as I said before, was annoying. He continues to hurt Helene over and over again. We're expected to believe that he is wise enough to see past the social barriers and understand that the Scholars are people the same as others, but he's so obtuse that he can't even see that Helene loves him. He is so afraid of ruining their friendship by acknowledging the fact that they both have feelings for the other, beyond those of plutonic friendship, that he ruins their friendship by rejecting, and hurting her again, and again.
I don't like Laia and Elias's relationship at all. They each have their own love interests. Laia and Keenan have acknowledged their attraction, which makes Laia's behavior with Elias feel like cheating. Elias and Helene's relationship, while unacknowledged, feels far more genuine than Laia and Keenan's, which makes me resent the fact that Elias keeps brushing her off in favor of Laia.
We don't know Laia's brother very well, but she is willing to do anything to save him. I felt that the sword smith, what was his name again? seemed like a very interesting character. Hopefully we'll see more of him in the next book
I am curious about Cook and what Laia's mother did in the resistance to create such admiration from so many, and so much hate from Cook. We are told little about Laia's mother, and even less about her father, yet from what little we learned, I can't help but think that Laia's admiration, almost hero-worship, of her mother would be better directed at her father. Cook's story about Djinn and the scholars was actually quite fascinating. I predict that Laia will have to try and make amends for the evil the Scholars did all those generations ago. I also enjoyed Izzy's character, and hope we see her in the next book.
The villains in this book were really scary and evil. Once in a while it's nice to see villains that aren't there to make you question what is good and what is evil with their tragic backstories, still I honestly cannot understand how the Commandant can be as cruel as she is, if anything, her brief backstory made it even harder for me to understand her evil. Marcus (like the Commandant) has been brought up in a society that believes Scholars are less than. From the look of things it also appears that he is used to the 'boys will be boys, girls will be garbage' approach to how he treats women in general, not just scholars. Besides those two nasty characters that are impossible to identify with, there is the leader of the Resistance, who seems to be quite villainous in the fact that he is so blinded by hate that he is willing to destroy his own people to get revenge on those who have enslaved them, and the Augurs, who appear to be willing to switch sides, depending on what suits them.
The book starts off with a bang, then gets boring until the last quarter or so. As with so many other YA series', I find myself unimpressed, and willing to just skip the rest of the series, only to have it pick up and get interesting at the end, hooking me to read the next book and hope that it gets interesting more quickly than the first.