- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Eos; 1st edition (Jan 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0380978032
- ISBN-13: 978-0380978038
- Product Dimensions: 24 x 15.8 x 3.6 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 748,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Bethiya is ruled by the Sun Lords. Several years previously, the two great bloodlines in Bethiya, the Danjians and the Tanyelis, fought at the Water Terrace of the Sun Lord's palace and killed off most of the males in both families. The Chancellor at that time, Halis Geray, persuaded the Council of Ministers to select someone from another bloodline as Sun Lord. Terem Rathai was choosen because he was from a distinguished military family which had dwindled to a very few; in order to reduce favoritism, one condition for receiving the throne was that all his relatives, except his mother, would be banned from Kurjain, the capital city.
In this novel, Lale is an eleven year old orphaned girl living with foster parents in Riversong, a small village at the end of the road. One day, she is sent with the communal sewing needles to the Bee Goddess's priestess, but loses them crossing a creek. When she returns, she is almost killed by her foster parents and neighbors before the village priest can stop the beating. They sentence her to Negation -- i.e., everyone acts as if she does not exist -- but food and water is left out for her use. At first she enjoys the rest and freedom, but later she begins to feel lonely and disassociated from village life and realizes that she must leave or die. She announces her intentions and needs to the village and they just happen to leave a few supplies lying around for her to take.
On the road to elsewhere, she briefly encounters Master Lim, who is a traveling bard, and renews their acquaintance, but he is killed by bandits. After they steal almost everything and leave, she lays out Master Lim and continues on her way. She soon meets a party of soldiers escorting a woman and three girls. The woman is Makina Seval, the Despotana of Tamurin, and she invites Lale to join her school for orphans in Chiran. There the Despotana adopts her, gives her the surname Navari, and assigns her a birthday, as she has done for each orphan in the school. Moreover, she assigns a tutor to teach her to read and then places her in classes.
Part of her training has been the history of Durdana, taught by the Despotana, with emphasis on the death of the Despotana's child at the Water Terrace. She explains to the girls that the wicked Chancellor encouraged the evil Tanyelis to butcher her husband's family and her child, the future Sun Lord. She also points out that the current Sun Lord is a usurper. She encourages them to hate the Chancellor and the current Sun Lord, but ensures that they will never to tell anyone else how she and they feel.
Six years later, Lale completes her schooling and, even though exempted as a girl, takes the Universal Examination, on which she does very well. After the school completion ceremony, the Despotana gives each girl a choice of careers, but Lale has to choose between apprenticing with the Tradition Tutoress or serving the Moon Lady at Three Springs. Moreover, she cannot remain with her best friend, Dilara, if she studies to replace the Tradition Tutoress. Both resignly choose Three Springs, but find out after they arrive that it is really a school for spies and assassins.
After years of training at Three Springs, Lale is sent to Master Luasin's acting school in Istana. Months later, Lale travels as an apprentice with the Elder Company to Kurjain, where she has been ordered to gain the attention of the Sun Lord. She closely resembles his newly dead wife, so she makes the resemblance a matter of general gossip. Terem sends for her after hearing reports of her appearance. They spend a hour or two every few days just discussing a wide range of topics and gradually they fall in love. Eventually she becomes his Inamorata, less than a wife and more that a mistress.
In their discussions, Terem describes his plans to restore the former lands and unity of the old Empire. With her training in political affairs, she realizes that he may be the only one who can accomplish this and, without such unity, Durdana is doomed to either fade away or fall to the Exile kingdoms. Her love for her homeland is conflicting with her love for the Despotana. Then she discovers who her family had been.
This novel strongly resembles a classical Chinese tale of the Time of Troubles and the invasion of the nomad hordes, but it also reflects the landscapes and urban scenes of Renaissance Venice and the Netherlands. It is a tale of exotic places, with strange sounding names. It is a romance that doesn't dwell upon love, yet the various loves in Lale's life -- Durdana itself, the Despotana, and Terem -- produce her turmoil of conflicting emotions.
The story flows well, with most plot twists hinted well ahead of time. Even the actions of Nilang, the Despotana's sorceress, are consistent throughout the tale. The story is also filled with descriptions of sights and smells, so that the reader can easily imagine the surroundings. It is apparent that the authors are not rank amateurs at writing fantasy. I certainly hope that they continue writing in this field.
Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys tales of foreign climes, desperate adventures, and divided loyalties.
This novel is excellent. It is not only well written, it is also exciting and rich in its details. For the first half of the book, I was able to savor it slowly, absorbing information as it was given, and tantalized by the hints that all was not as it seemed (as the book is narrated by a future Lale who knows the true meaning of things). The second half of the book I read a breakneck speed as all the things that had been hinted at and suggested began to make sense, and the pace of events sped faster and faster. It was a great sweeping ending all the more so for the depth of the development that had preceded it. I would have liked a map, and at times was tempted to try and draw my own to keep the different countries/provinces straight, but otherwise an excellent book.
This is a book that would be appropriate for an advanced younger teen reader or mid-teens and beyond, there is violence, scary monsters, and no explicit sexual scenes.
The author has her character speak in a first person narrative which very effectively draws the reader in and makes you feel like you are sharing in the secrets and discoveries that she imparts as the tale unfolds. There is a certain amount of foreshadowing and implied doom which builds suspense and makes this book a real page-turner. Lale is a likeable, believable character - blunt, brave, and sometimes arrogant, but never once does she come across as stereotypical or contrived like some "strong" heroines can.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and consider it a definite keeper on my bookshelf.