Micay’s name means “Beautiful Round Face” in Quechua, but her disfiguring facial scar has earned her the nickname Millay, “Ugly One,” from bullies in her Incan village.
Fleeing to her special rock, she hides behind her long hair, but the taunts persist. Having a beautiful sister compounds her misery. When a stranger traveling to the Sacred Sun City (Machu Picchu) gives her a fledgling macaw, Micay emerges from her defensive shell. The bird she’s named Sumac, “Handsome,” becomes her companion and protector, leading her to the Paqo (village shaman), who takes her on as his apprentice. The Paqo is a mystery: Why did he forsake his powerful position in Cuzco for a humble village? He trains Micay in the healing arts, bringing her to an assembly of shamans seeking to end the relentless drought afflicting the empire. Despite their sacrifices and pleas to the gods, the drought worsens, and Micay fears the Paqo may be driven from the village. Though fantasy elements exist, the novel strives for historical accuracy. Micay’s an appealing, if subdued, protagonist, and the rich cultural and physical setting trumps the somewhat derivative plot.
The Incan empire’s four-century ascendance has inspired plenty of nonfiction and over-the-top fantasy but perplexingly little historical fiction for kids. This recommended title can help fill that void. (glossary, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)