In 1122, in the kingdom of Blinth, a young teen runs in panic through the woods before finally collapsing. She awakens next to a stag that tells her that the men following her are friendly and that she should go with them in order to heal the cuts on her feet. Tristam, the leader of the hunting party, carries her to King Stefan’s castle. However, once her fever breaks, she finds herself unable to speak or remember anything about her past. Tristam names her Grace and takes a personal interest in her recovery. He’s still healing as well, after losing his wife and daughter in the woods years ago, and he grows closer to the foreign girl at the risk of his own reputation. Eventually, Grace starts communicating through sign language, going to school, and enjoying close friendships inside and outside the castle. But both she and Tristam sense a tragedy in her past that she’s blocked out completely. Will their deepening bond help or hinder her full recovery? Arnold sets her incredibly layered narrative in a Christian kingdom while offering mystery, romance and a parable on the power of healing. The chapters alternate between Tristam’s and Grace’s first-person accounts, and the author emphasizes the sense of touch throughout, characterized by tender dignity: “I go to him,” says Grace, “and wrap him in my arms as best I can. I stroke his hair. I kiss his brow.” However, this is also a story about healing from sexual abuse, and Arnold handles the traumatic subject with exceptional realism, particularly when she depicts Grace’s oscillation between isolation and acceptance. Splendid secondary characters, such as Becca and Geneva, keep the tale from becoming too dour. Grace’s headmaster provides moments of wisdom, as when she tells Grace in a moment of doubt, “[M]any times those who are different are indeed our brightest.” Plenty of court intrigue and a stunning twist at the end could bring readers back for a sequel.
A glowing, potent fantasy tale for teens and adults.