YA fantasy novels are catnip to movie producers, so it should come as no surprise that the rights to An Ember In The Ashes (only just released by Razorbill on April 28) were purchased by Paramount Pictures way back in January. The novel was written by Sabaa Tahir, a former foreign news desk editor at The Washington Post, and follows the lives of four young people struggling to survive in a brutal society not too far removed from the Roman Empire. For those curious about this New York Times Best Seller, The A.V. Club and Penguin Books have an opportunity for readers to win a hardcover copy, as well as a fancy letter opener shaped like a sword. Details for how to enter are below, but first, Sabaa Tahir was kind enough to write us a special note about her love of weaponry (hence the letter opener sword) and how that informed the themes of the novel. Here’s what she had to say:

“I fell head-over-heels in love with weaponry at age 15, when my friend gave me a knife for my birthday. It’s small, with a dragon on the hilt and a nice little blade. I still keep it on me.

When I began writing An Ember In The Ashes, I knew weaponry would be a big part of the story. However I didn‚Äôt want the plot to get bogged down in details about dirks, maces and long knives. So I highlighted one particular weapon in the book: the ‚Äúscim‚ÄĚ. Though I took the name from the scimitar, (I liked how it sounded), I felt the Arabian blade was far too flashy to fit the Ancient-Rome inspired world of Ember. So I based Ember‚Äôs scim on the Japanese katana‚ÄĒall the way down to the circular guard and the slight curve of the blade.

But what makes Ember‚Äôs scims special? I remember visiting South Asia as a teenager and hearing vendors yelI ‚ÄúDee-maz-kisstil! Dee-maz-kisstil!‚ÄĚ (Damascus steel). At the time I had no idea what it was, (nor that modern Damascus steel pales when compared to the historic version) but the phrase was beautiful and I wrote it down in a notebook somewhere. Many years later, while writing Ember, I did some web research and learned that Damascus steel weaponry was considered some of the finest in history. Its origins in Wootz steel, produced in the forges of ancient India and Sri Lanka‚ÄĒis what made it so distinctive. But the method of making Wootz steel had long since been lost.

I stewed over this information for a few weeks and decided to use it in Ember, specifically in explaining why scims were such a coveted weapon: they are the reason that Ember‚Äôs ruling Martial Empire conquered a huge swath of a continent. The Empire‚Äôs enemies could never match its superior steel. Questions exploded from there: how close does the Empire guard its steelcraft? What would happen if an enemy of the Empire discovered that information? What happens to the families of those who seek such information out? When I sat with the idea, the weaponry became far more than a side detail in the book. It became a catalyst‚ÄĒone of the primary reasons the story takes place at all.‚ÄĚ

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For your chance to win one of three hardcover copies of An Ember In The Ashes, simply send an email to avcontests@theonion.com with the subject line ‚ÄúAn Ember In The Ashes.‚ÄĚ Please include your full name and mailing address in the body of the email. US entrants only. Our three winners will be selected at random from eligible entires on Friday, May 22 and notified via email. Estimated retail value of the prize is $19.95. An official book trailer can be found below.