Twelve year-old Hezhi longs to know the secret ways of her father’s kingdom. Something happens to her family members as they reach maturity, but no one can tell her what. She will brave dark tunnels through abandoned ruins and the savage dislike of the palace librarian to uncover the truth about her cousin’s disappearance. What she finds places her own life and the lives of the only people she loves in grave danger. Through a dream, she sends a call to a faraway hero.
Perkar’s only desire is to free the beautiful stream goddess from the terrible devourer. She advises him to forget her, but he will not be dissuaded. He sets out with companions on a journey he hopes will bring him the means to kill the powerful god who harms the goddess he loves. When a strange dream reaches him, he can’t be sure if answering the cry for help aids the god he wishes to destroy or harms him. Determined to find the answers, Perkar determines to follow his quest to whatever bitter end may wait for him.
One of the things I liked about this story was the way that seemingly insignificant characters emerged to play pivotal roles. Often I didn’t see it coming, but the unfolding story made so much sense. How often in real life do we not realize our true allies or the people who will come to play important roles in our lives until circumstances reveal them? I liked that this story has a larger stage. There were just enough details from various cultures to make them interesting and more-or-less believable. It definitely made the journey feel more epic to follow Perkar through these different territories and peoples. The scope of the story reminded me of the likes of Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion.
Though the characters are young (I think Perkar is 17 or 18) the tone of the story is more adult fiction than young adult fiction. Most of the other elements would appeal to readers of either genre. (See below for content information.)
Infrequent use of profanity.
Brief but explicit sexual scenes. Perkar has an experience early in the story and another later on in the tale. A suitor tries to take advantage of Hezhi, but she stops him.
As Hezhi reaches puberty, her power wakes. It’s strongest during her monthly period. There’s not a lot of description about this, but it’s an important note in the story, so if you’re squeamish, be warned.
For Hezhi, the River is the only god, and his blood runs through all members of her family. Priests perform mysterious rites which servants are unable to speak about. Some of it is a little dark. They perform a ritual over Hezhi that’s a bit creepy. As Hezhi comes to understand her power, she uses it against others who would try to harm her. She summons a creature to her aid at one point. Her castle is also home to a number of ghosts. Priests use special brooms to “sweep” the palace of any nefarious spirits.
Perkar’s people believe in and witness a multitude of other gods with varying degrees of power and complex relationships with one another. Perkar and his companions often sing songs and leave offerings to various gods along their journey. Part of his journey involves wanting to kill a god, though he does not know if such a thing is even possible.
Violence seems to plague Perkar on his quest. Some of his actions cause death not only to his enemies but his allies as well. Some battles contain brief but gory descriptions of warfare. Hezhi also causes some death and destruction. Descriptions are brief, but intense.
Perkar and his people sometimes drink a strong ale called woti.