I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
Librarians, pirates, and assassins, oh my! Once again, I am charmed by a young-adult author.
I loved the magic of reading & literature—quite literally in this story. Sefia, our young female main character, has inherited a Book, her only legacy from her beloved parents. Somehow, Chee makes it seem not only likely, but inevitable, that Sefia would teach herself to read this book and then use it to see the past and explore the present. Her pursuit of the truth about the Book and the loss of her parents & her aunt, lead her to follow a criminal outfit and she eventually rescues a young man who they have been forcing to fight other youngsters to the death for some obscure purpose. He is so traumatized that he is unable to speak, but his fighting prowess leads Sefia to name him Archer.
Chee writes a very egalitarian world without making a big deal about it. For those of us who grew up with fantasy where we had to have a sex change to identify with most of the characters because they were almost all male, this is a very disorientating experience! To read about an assassin, and suddenly realize, wait this is a woman! Same on board the pirate ship—there’s a ship’s boy, but also a ship’s girl, not to mention numerous female crew members. It’s all written matter of factly, and I found myself running face first into my own assumptions on a regular basis. What a pleasant change!
There is the inevitable romance between Sefia and her rescuee, Archer, but it didn’t overwhelm the main plot and was gently developed. I will be pleased to follow their story further in The Speaker.