The Oracle Betrayed, by Catherine Fisher (2003 in the UK, 2004 in the US, mg/YA, 341 pages), sat in my tbr pile for about three years. Finally, last weekend, I brushed the dust from it (note to self: dust tbr pile more often), and actually read it.
And it was really, really good.
It takes place in an ancient Greek kind of place, where a young girl, Mirany, is one of chosen Nine who serve the Oracle. Her land is dying from drought...but though the Archon, the god-king, gives his life as a sacrifice, the drought continues.
Mirany can hear the god speaking through the Oracle. He has been reborn, and must be found. But the Oracle has been betrayed. The Speaker, most powerful of the nine servants of the Oracle, plots to install a puppet in the Archon's palace; a scheming general hungers for power. And the rain, a goddess in her own right, seems farther away then ever.
It's up to Mirany, with some unlikely allies close at hand, and the voice of the god (not always helpful) in her ear, to bring back balance...but the layers of treachery run deep, and even the brightest god has a shadow...
That's the gist of the story. I hope I made it sound enticing. Here's the breakdown of what you get:
1. Likable, believable heroine (not preternaturally brave or smart or sassy, and with no special Magical Abilities Through Which She Saves Everyone!!! She does hear the voice of the god, but that's not really due to her own specialness)
2. Nicely done archaic-Greek-type world building (although too sandy, perhaps, to be entirely Greek. Maybe a tad more Egyptian than Greek, environment-wise).
3. Cool deities
4. Engaging supporting characters
5. Utterly absorbing writing
6. Lots of scorpions (not necessarily a bonus feature)
Here's what I'm looking forward too--reading the second and third books (The Sphere of Secrets and Day of the Scarab).
This is the same Catherine Fisher of Incarceron fame, which, if you've read that, should give you some idea of the intricate twisty-ness of her storytelling. This is much more straightforward, but still complex--we, the readers, learn what's going on as Mirany does, which I appreciate.
There's nothing here that's not suitable for an upper middle grade reader--a little violence, a few scorpions, a touch of grave robbing, human sacrifice (tastefully done, in an understated way). But it's complex enough to be a satisfying read for a much older reader (that would be me).