After wowing kids and critics alike in the UK, this smart and suprisingly gritty historical fantasy from award-winning Welsh author and poet Catherine Fisher finally arrives in the US. Fisher grabs readers quickly with a convincingly imagined Greco-Egyptian setting and characters that defy quick classification. Our heroine, Mirany, begins the story as a timid teen serving the High Priestess, the masked Speaker who discerns the wishes of a god through a mysterious island oracle. When the current Archon (the sequestered God-on-Earth) passes a secret note to Mirany just before he's sacrificed, the story throws intrigue onto intrigue with a murder plot, a drunken musician, a conflicted scribe, a slick tomb robber, an offended Rain Goddess, and no shortage of mystic burial rituals and dusty tombs.
Fisher's biggest accomplishment is that for all the page-turning action, she still manages to raise some pretty heady ideas about death, ambition, and the nature of faith. Expect both kids and grownups to be reaching for Fisher's follow-up. (Ages 9 to 12) --Paul Hughes
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-9--There's trouble in the Two Lands, a desert country imagined as an amalgam of ancient Egypt and Greece. Parched by drought, its poor and starving people look to their god to find the Rain Queen who will bring them water. Embodied in generations of mortal men called Archons, the god is served by nine young women. Foremost among them is the Speaker, who is corrupt, in love with a power-hungry general, and plots to betray the Oracle by installing a puppet Archon. Before the old Archon dies, he enlists the help of the meekest, newest member of the Nine, mousy Mirany, to foil the Speaker's plans. As the plot twists and turns, suspense is ratcheted up by the use of one-sentence paragraphs and cliff-hanger endings. Mirany grows quickly (and rather improbably) into a tough, wily conspirator, aided by a group of companions, each of whom has a personal agenda. The scribe Seth wants to help his sick sister. Oblek, the musician to the old Archon, wants to meet his beloved master reincarnated in a new body. Both Mirany and Oblek hear the god speak through Alexos, a 10-year-old destined to be the true Archon. Can they defeat the powerful forces against them? Will the Rain Queen ever visit the Two Lands? The answers lie deep in the unknown tunnels and tombs of the City of the Dead. Action trumps character development in this page-turning fantasy, while an open ending paves the way for subsequent volumes.--Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams
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