In a sweeping fantasy that award-winning author Franny Billingsley calls "fascinating and unique," debut author Kathy MacMillan weaves palace intrigue and epic world-building to craft a tale for fans of Rae Carson and Megan Whalen Turner.
Raisa was just a child when she was sold into slavery in the kingdom of Qilara. Before she was taken away, her father had been adamant that she learn to read and write. But where she now lives, literacy is a capital offense for all but the nobility. The written language is closely protected, and only the King, Prince, Tutor, and Tutor-in-training are allowed to learn its very highest form.
So when she is plucked from her menial labor and selected to replace the last Tutor-in-training who was executed, Raisa knows that betraying any hint of her past could mean death.
Keeping her secret guarded is hard enough, but the romance that's been blossoming between her and Prince Mati isn't helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground rebel army—to help liberate the city's slaves. She wants to free her people, but that would mean aiding a war against Mati.
As Raisa struggles with what to do, she discovers a secret that the Qilarites have been hiding for centuries—one that, if uncovered, could bring the kingdom to its knees.
Fans of Megan Whalen Turner will enjoy MacMillan's debut novel, set in the country of Qilara, in which writing is sacred to the gods, and only the king and his tutor may know the high script used to pray. Raisa, who comes from the enslaved Arnath ethnic minority, studies to become the next royal tutor, but she and the prince, Mati, fall in love. Raisa is torn between the conflicting machinations of the Arnath resistance group, who are trying to abolish slavery; her love for Mati; and the old guard of Qilarite nobility, who see Mati as a dangerous progressive. In addition, Raisa, born in freedom and captured in a raid, is trying to decipher the one piece of writing from her home that she has held onto all her life, unaware that it may be relevant to her larger problems. The integration of the peculiar Qilarite pantheon into the plot is handled awkwardly, gaining importance late in the story after being somewhat neglected, but MacMillan explains the complicated political twists and turns clearly, and her characterizations are layered and believable. Ages 14 up.