Hilari Bell, Author . S&S $16.95 (344p) ISBN 978-0-689-85413-2

In the bracing first installment of Bell's (The Goblin Wood ) planned three-part fantasy series, The Book of the Sorahb, the land of Farsala is facing invasion by the notoriously vicious warrior nation of Hrum. The temple priests say that the gods must be assuaged in order to save Farsala, so they demand the commander of the military sacrifice his 15-year-old daughter, Soraya. Soraya's exile to the wilderness—where, ostensibly, the fates will decide whether to let her live or die—is one of three stories that unfold. More compelling are the other two: Jiaan, a bright young ex-peasant who is taken under the commander's wing and rises to the occasion when the day of battle arrives; and Kavi, a crooked merchant, captured by the Hrum while peddling fake gold merchandise and forced to become a spy against his homeland. The cast is fully formed: the bad guys aren't entirely bad, the good guys not entirely good (the Hrum appear enlightened, even giving full citizenship rights to their captors, while the Farsala at times appear more ruthless). Another subplot concerns a fascinating back story of two star-crossed lovers and their offspring who is to become the messianic savior of the Farsala nation, and who promises to figure heavily in the second volume. The first few chapters are a bit intimidating, even confusing, though: Bell constructs her world with a daunting new vocabulary, and readers will likely have to read the book's opening more than once. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
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