An Ember in the Ashes By Sabaa Tahir
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In the Martial Empire, is it the soldier or the slave who's truly free?
A girl left with nothing goes undercover as a spy at the Martial Empire's greatest military academy. There, she meets an aspiring soldier who has been given the world but only wants his freedom. Together, they will change the future of the empire itself.
Laia is a Scholar living under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia must step out of the shadows and embark on a quest that will take her from the haunted catacombs of her city to the halls of Blackcliff Academy, where the Empire trains its most feared soldiers. There she will she go undercover as a slave, spying on the Martials in exchange for help from other Scholars who claim they will save her brother from execution. She does not realize that in making this bargain, she will put her own life at stake and that she will be thrust into the center of a conflict with global consequences. Elias is Blackcliff's finest soldier--and, secretly, its most unwilling. Sickened by the prospect of hunting and killing Scholars who oppose the Empire, Elias decides to desert the military. But before he can run, he's ordered to participate in the Trials, a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor. Elias must wage war in the Trials with skill and ferocity while struggling with a deep inner ambivalence. For while losing the Trials might cost him his life, winning them could cost him his soul. When Laia and Elias's paths cross at Blackcliff, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the Empire--and with it, their world.