Princess Kateri must defeat twelve champions in the arena before she can prove her worthiness to rule the desert-kingdom of Achra. Her father’s disappointment is a goad that never lets her stop training, as is the memory of her mother’s death at the hands of the villainous “desert boys.” If she can only prove herself to her father and find a way to take care of her mother’s suffering people, perhaps the drought in Achra will end and water will find its way to the parched populace once again.
But when the captain of the guard, brutish and sadistic Rodric, turns Kateri’s father against her, the princess is forced to flee to the desert before her twelfth match. There she meets Cion, the leader of the desert boys, and discovers that the desert boys have a far different reason for stealing Achra’s water than she’s always been taught. Initiated into their group, she learns fortitude, kindness, and cunning from Cion, honing her skills so that she can best Rodric and uncover the secret that her father has been keeping from the people.
Based on Frank Stockton’s short story, “The Lady, or the Tiger,” this YA novel creates a fantastical world of swinging swords and swirling sand. Kateri, with her privileged palace upbringing, is a bit annoying at first, but she soon grows into a heroine one can root for–a cross between Jasmine and Mulan. Cion, a commoner with the nobility of a prince, is unfailingly likeable throughout, with his knowledge of the unforgiving desert as vast as his sympathy for the downtrodden. The romantic chemistry between Cion and Kateri is at exactly the right level for a YA novel.
The tie-in to the original story helps build anticipation. Kateri’s father is renowned for allowing his prisoners a choice between two doors–one of which holds a man-eating tiger. Knowing the original Stockton story, I was eager to see how the choice between the tiger or a rival lady would play out at the end of the story, and I must say, the dramatic tension did not disappoint! Annie Sullivan is a new author to me, and I look forward to reading more of her books.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.