Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel is a stunning fantasy rendition of the Roman empire, complete with monsters, magic, mystery, and dizzying plot twists. A former Washington Post foreign desk editor, Tahir brings a fresh journalistic eye to Young Adult fiction that you absolutely must read this Spring. The Martial Empire’s fate is in two pairs of hands. One pair belongs to Elias, a boy who’s trained almost his entire life to become an elite type of solider dedicated to serving his empire. But as his graduation day draws near, he starts having doubts, and even considers abandoning a life of service for a simple life in a neighboring country. Everything changes for him though when he and his best friend, Helene, as well as two of their classmates are chosen to battle in a competition deciding the next emperor or empress of the martial empire. The second pair of hands belongs to gentle, scholarly Laia, whose world is thrown into turmoil when her grandparents are killed and her brother is accused of treason against the empire that enslaved her and her fellow nation of peaceful scholars so long ago. In an attempt to get him back and redeem herself from when she cowardly fled from her family to save her own life, she tracks down an underground organization, the Scholar’s Resistance, revealing herself to be the long forgotten daughter of the Resistance’s slain leaders. Elias and Laia’s paths then cross when Laia becomes a Resistance spy in exchange for her brother’s freedom. Her target is none of than headmistress of the military school, otherwise known as Blackcliff Academy, where Elias attends. Laia’s original goal was to find out as much as she could about the four trials that would determine the future emperor/empress. Elias’s plan was to survive the savage trials and then somehow escape from the empire to live a simpler life. But when they meet each other, things don’t exactly go as they had hoped.