A Mongol slave must choose between escaping her captivity and saving the man she loves.
When the Chinese Song dynasty is conquered by the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty in 1279, Jinghua is enslaved by the Khipchak khanate. In autumn of 1280, the khanate itself is overthrown by enemy forces, and the exiled Timur Khan and his youngest son, Prince Khalaf, must flee. Jinghua joins their fugitive party disguised as a boy. Traveling across the vast Mongol Empire, Khalaf finds comfort in Jinghua’s companionship, and they bond over Hanyu (Mandarin Chinese) lessons and poetry as, against her better judgment, she falls in love with him. Alas, Khalaf devises a plan of last resort to save his kingdom—he will marry Turandokht (yes, as in Puccini’s Turandot), the beautiful but heartless daughter of the Great Khan; however, potential suitors must solve three riddles or face execution. With Khalaf’s life at stake, Jinghua must prove her mettle, even if it means sacrificing the one thing that she holds most dear. Though the tale is ancient and epic, this is a fast-paced page-turner. Thorough research helps build a believable 13th-century Mongolia, and the Romanized Mandarin Chinese is used precisely, right down to the tonal inflections. Lavish, sweeping, and powerful, this is a love story, tragicomedy, and history lesson rolled into one.
A must-read for fans of heart-wrenching, sob-your-heart-out YA. (cast of characters, map, historical notes, author’s note, glossary) (Historical fiction. 12-18)