August 11, 2021 7:34 AM EDT

In the tyrannical Martial Empire, inspired by ancient Rome, 17-year-old Laia and her people eke out an existence under the yoke of the ruling elite. But after Laia’s older brother Darin is arrested for treason, Laia must seek out the rebel Resistance and make a desperate deal. And even those at the top of the empire’s food chain, like 20-year-old Elias Veturius, the scion of a powerful Martial family, suffer in a society that values duty and brutality above all else. Elias has trained for 14 years to become a Mask, a killing machine for the emperor, but is desperate to escape everything about his life of violence. When Laia and Elias’ paths fatefully cross, the 2015 debut installment in Sabaa Tahir’s best-selling fantasy tetralogy—a sweeping saga of love, courage, hope and the search for liberty—truly takes off. Tahir drew inspiration for the story of Darin’s detainment from reports of Indian authorities taking young Kashmiri men from their families that she copy-edited while working at the Washington Post—just as later plot points in the An Ember in the Ashes series were influenced by global events like the international refugee crisis and the Arab Spring. —Megan McCluskey

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