Laia is a Scholar living with her grandparents and brother under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire. She and her family eke out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets, trying their best not to draw attention to themselves. But one night, Empire soldiers raid Laia’s home—and life as she knows it changes forever.


Elias is the finest soldier at Blackcliff Military Academy—but secretly, its most unwilling. The scion of one of the Empire’s finest families, Elias wants only to be free from the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce.


Helene is the only female student at Blackcliff Academy, and Elias’s closest friend. She is a true Martial, more loyal to the Empire than to her own mother, and she takes Blackcliff’s motto to heart: Duty first, unto death.


The Commandant runs Blackcliff Academy with an iron fist, and takes great satisfaction in mercilessly punishing students for breaking any of the school’s numerous rules. She is one of the most powerful people in the Empire and is the only living female Mask – or will be, until Helene graduates.  The Commandant has spies everywhere, and expresses a particular loathing for Elias, whom she terrorizes and thwarts at every opportunity.