13-year-old Elissa struggles to find her place in the close-nit community of High Crossing. With no connection to her parents and no friends, Elissa finds solace in nature and her ability to talk to animals. Her life changes forever when her father arrives in town and takes her away from her healer grandmother on an expedition to visit the Khan. She is troubled by her father’s cold demeanor, but she holds out hope that he will come to love her with time. These hopes are dashed as she learns that her father plans to trade her to the Khan in exchange for soldiers. Consumed with anger and grief, she agrees to live with the Khan, and her father gets his wish. In the Khan’s Citadel, she is horrified to learn that the Khan plans to marry her as soon as she comes of age. Elissa escapes his notice for a time, but in the end she must call upon her Gift of talking to animals to overcome the evil ruler.
Steeped in myth, this adventure/fantasy will appeal to readers who liked Patrick Carman’s The Dark Hills Divide. Elissa is a realistic, sympathetic protagonist. However, like in Carman’s series, some plot twists feel contrived, the triumph comes too easily and the mythology elements introduced in the beginning fail to come to any satisfying resolution in the end. Verrillo has managed to craft an appealing fantasy world peopled with mysterious characters, especially the Blue People. She also has created a host of strong female characters, from the plucky Elissa to the wizened healers. A good choice for reluctant or beginning readers, though established readers will find more depth in Laini Taylor’s Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer, another fantasy about a courageous heroine who can talk to animals and finds herself in the middle of a larger mythological tale.