A 13-year-old boy joins a caravan to find someone who knew his dead father and encounters a sand sea of dangers in ancient China, 630 C.E.
A ghost wind calls Chengli to leave the Imperial City of Chang’an, which he loves, and Old Cook, who raised him, to sign on as a lowly camel boy with a trade caravan carrying silk and thousands of precious items. They trek west, leaving the protection of China’s Great Wall, and skirt the edge of the fearful desert until they reach Kashgar, where hundreds of caravans come together to buy and sell everything imaginable. When a princess betrothed to marry the ruler of a nomad kingdom joins the caravan, the 2,000-mile journey becomes even more dangerous. The rigors of sands and winds aren’t the only hazards Chengli faces: There are also a traitorous new friend, horse-riding thieves who abduct the princess, beatings and imprisonment. Cultural practices and beliefs are detailed, and descriptions depict the setting and era though the dialogue slips a few times into the colloquial. Three pages of historical notes serve as a glossary, but there is no map, which would be helpful. All in all, this is reminiscent of the work of Lloyd Alexander, though, sadly, not as sparkling.
Not likely to be an easy sell due to the unusual time period and slow beginning, but readers who forge ahead will enjoy an interesting adventure. (Historical fiction. 9-13)