Debut fantasy from a pseudonymous Canadian husband (writer) and wife (artist) team. Cast out from her village, young foundling Lale runs into Makina, the ruling Despotana of Tamurin on the Pearl River. Surprisingly, the Despotana adopts Lale and enrolls her in school; all Mother requires in return is utter loyalty, which Lale happily gives. As the years pass, Lale grows into a young woman of striking beauty. Mother sends Lale to a special school in the mountains, where she learns the arts and crafts of spying and assassination; a magical binding will bring terrible wraiths down upon Lale should she reveals Mother's secrets. Mother, it seems, is plotting to destroy Terem, the young, charismatic ruler of neighboring Bethiya, whom Mother blames for the death of her son and family during an internecine conflict. Under Mother's orders, Lale develops her acting talents and joins a troupe that will perform before Terem. Lale fascinates Terem because of her uncanny resemblance to his dead wife. Subtly, Lale beguiles the young king, learning his plans and reporting everything to Mother, even Terem's ambition to drive out the hated Exiles, the barbarian horsemen who sacked the old Empire and since have brutally repressed the conquered territories. Lale begins to question her loyalty to Mother, wondering if indeed Mother is mad. She resolves to tell Terem everything, intending to take poison rather than face the wraiths.
Glum, predictable, and ordinary.