Wandering musician Rowan, his family dead of plague, and Samik, on the run from a vicious warlord, join forces, at first with misgivings.
Bennett has crafted a believable, medievallike world. Rowan travels about in a mule-drawn caravan playing a button box, a type of accordion. He’s a gifted musician, but life is hard and he’s haunted by the deaths of his parents and beloved little sister, Ettie. Samik successfully defended his younger brother from attack by a warlord, and now he’s fled pursuit to Rowan’s country. Gifted with second sight, he points out to Rowan that Ettie is always with him, the girl’s spirit adding an attractive paranormal twist. The narrative switches between the points of view of Rowan and Samik and occasionally ratchets up the suspense by cutting back to the savage men who are trailing Samik—and clearly getting closer. Rowan shows a growing maturity as he learns to make his way without his parents’ guidance; Samik, from a privileged background, is less determined to mature. He hides his growing affection for Rowan both from the boy and from readers, who might be surprised when he finally gives himself away. Suspense rather than action sustains the plot, but a scary climax doesn’t disappoint.
An appealing fantasy with enough tension to firmly hold readers’ interest. (Fantasy. 12-18)