What is it like to never feel safe? The question is at the center of Sabaa Tahir’s bruising debut young adult novel. Laia lives under the Martial Empire, where she’s never to defy the Emperor unless she wants to risk her family’s lives, and her powerless existence is made even worse when her brother is arrested. In order to rescue him, she makes a deal with the rebels and becomes a slave at the Empire’s military academy, where she spies for the people who have agreed to bring her brother home. It’s there that she meets Elias, the school’s top soldier, who desperately wants to escape the tyranny he’s been born into. Tahir flips between their perspectives, revealing their violent world, fractured by class and haunted by forces both strange and unsettling. Tahir imbues her dystopian setting with elements of fantasy that help create an unforgettable narrative about finding hope even in the most dire of circumstances. —Annabel Gutterman

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