Last March, I was working on my new releases post for the second half of the month, which included Bloodline Rising, by Katy Moran. Every time I post a new releases list, I am, of course, full of book lust. But the description of this book made me do something I almost never, ever do--I wrote directly to the publisher to ask if I could have a review copy. Because, really, what fan of Megan Whalen Turner's books, who is also a fan of Dark Age England, and of historical fiction with magic, could resist this summary:
"The Ghost is the fastest, most cunning young criminal in Constantinople. Skilled at lying and deceit, he has the power to twist the minds of men, bending them to his will. He is both invisible and invincible. Or at least he thinks so - till the day his father returns from the desert. A ruthless barbarian assassin, Essa is not pleased to discover that his wild son Cai has become the city's most notorious thief. But sinister forces are moving against Cai and he finds himself captive on a trading ship. The Ghost no longer, he is now a slave. But luck has not deserted him completely - the ship is bound for Britain, the home his barbarian parents fled, long ago. When he becomes a slave to Wulfhere, prince of Mercia, Cai soon discovers that his Anglish masters know more about his family than he does - what secrets have his mother and father been keeping from him? As Cai sharpens his skills of subterfuge and persuasion, war threatens, and he must choose: will he use his phenomenal talents for good, or evil?"
And then the book arrived (thank you, Candlewick!) and I began to read...and I found it good.
There are two distinct parts of this book--the Constantinople part, and the British part. The Constantinople part features Cai as the brash thief, whose preternatural abilities bring him to the attention of the Lord of the Thieves, and a dangerous mission that could change the course of the Byzantine Empire. This section is utterly sparkling, and I could have happily stayed in Cai's city for a whole book, enjoying his exploits and caught up in the political intrigues of that time and place!
Then (as the summary says) he's captured and sent as a slave to Britain, his parents' homeland. And now the story shifts to the politics and intrigues of the feuding Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. And Cai finds that he, all unknowing, has a place in these politics by virtue of who he is--secrets that have been kept from him all his life emerge to challenge his native cunning. Here in Britain Cai is no longer the brash thief he was when he was just a boy. He's wracked by guilt for what he sees as unforgivable failures back in Constantinople (careful spoiler avoidance here), and uncertain what place he will have in this new world.
But as he grows to manhood he finds that the gifts that stood him in good stead back then have more to them then he had imagined. And the story is now one of loyalty (to whom?), friendship (but who are the friends, and who is the enemy?), and magic....
I confess I have a strong penchant for the first half of the book; I was not quite as sucked in to the Anglo-Saxon England part. In large part, I think this is because of the author's choice to use the first person present--this worked well while Cai was dashing around Constantionable, and there was lots of immediate action, and also worked while he was on the slave ship. In England, when the focus of the story is on Cai's introspective, emotionally-charged efforts to figure out his life, it was less gripping. And because the focus was so strongly on what was going on in Cai's mind, the world of the Anglo-Saxons around him never became quite real to me.
In short, I enjoyed the book, but not quite as much as I had hoped I would.
viz reading age--Cai is 12 at the beginning, 13 at the end. There's some violence, and an unmarried girl gets pregnant (off stage). The book is marketed as YA, but older middle grade kids probably would enjoy this one too.