"Reading Books can get you killed."
In the land of Oration, magic is cast by reading aloud words of power from Spoken Books. Only a select few, the Speakers, are born with the ability to do so. But after a disaster nearly destroyed Oration, society grew to fear the Speakers' power and they were hunted and enslaved, never taught to read. Now they live in oppression, unable to use their magic unless a spell is first read aloud to them.
Each year, young men and women from Oration's ruling Libraries compete in the Acktus Trials, a journey that takes them through the wilds of Oration to the ruined city of Tome. Once Oration's capital, it is now abandoned, though the Great Library at its center still holds a wealth of Spoken Books. As Speakers are no longer taught to read, they also cannot write, so new Spoken Books have not been created in hundreds of years. The discovery of a new Book is a coveted prize for any young noble.
Baztian is a slave to one of Oration's poorer Libraries. When he is selected to accompany his master on the Actkus Trials, he thinks his life is over. The wilds are treacherous, his master incompetent, and their fellow competitors set on winning, whatever the means. But Baz also has a secret—one that could get him killed, but one that also makes him the most valuable of assets during the Trials. Baz can read, and after he saves his master from certain death, he strikes a deal—his secret kept safe in exchange for aiding his master in completing the Trials. But can Baz really help a young man who thinks of him as property? And even if he can, there is much he doesn't know, like the evil that lies in wait beneath the ruins of Tome.