Oh man, I got so sucked in to the second half of this one. What did you think?
At the beginning, I was iffy on the story because a) I'm starting to get burnt out on YA fantasy kingdom and rebel fighter type stories and b) I think I hyped myself up too much about this one. The beginning struck me as really technically proficient storytelling, like the author was doing all the right things and I was admiring each of them, but still not enough that I forgot about the writing part and got sucked into the story.
Then once things started to get going and Laia was put in the Comandant's house to spy and Elias started the trials I could barely put it down. I thought the setting was unique and both ancient Rome feeling and a tad of Middle Eastern flavor with the desert setting and the jinn and efrits and ghuls and the weaponry.
I liked both the Elias/ Helene friendship and the friendship that developed between Laia and Izzi and Cook. I still keep wondering who Cook is. A couple of times I wondered if she might actually be Laia's mother, but then I thought wouldn't they recognize each other, even with Cook's scarred face?
The Trials were horribly awesome in the same way that the Hunger Games arena was. I felt like I was going to throw up when the Augers pitted Elias's and Helene's batallions against each other and let him think he was going to kill her. Twisted,
I think I liked Helene in the same way I liked Liraz. She was prickly and steely, but came around. In the end, everything she did, swearing fealty to Marcus, healing Laia was because of love and loyalty to her best friend.