The first of a projected trio of horse-centered historical novels takes readers to a central Asia of some 2,000 years ago.
To 14-year-old Kallisto's wealthy trader father, she is a plump peach, soft and lovely; to her horse-trainer mother, a former slave, she is a warrior yet unproven. Kalli, shy and stammering everywhere but on a horse, begins to prove herself when she and her friend Batu catch a glimpse over a mountainside of thousands of Middle Kingdom warriors preparing to attack their town. Servants herd the family's elite horses to safety inside the walls, but Kalli herself barters for their food and water, shields them and cares for them; when her own mare, Swan, is stolen, she dons armor and weapons and rides to the rescue. In the end, she wins Swan not in battle, but through shrewd bargaining—the true daughter of both her parents. Harrison's story is based upon a historical battle in 102 B.C. between soldiers of Chinese emperor Wu-Ti and inhabitants of the city of Ferghana. The emperor wanted the golden-hued Persian horses, ancestors of today's Akhal-Teke breed; the siege ended diplomatically with the opening of the famous Silk Road. Harrison's impressive research brings this relatively unknown era to life; her characters ring true, and Kallisto's equestrian abilities, while impressive, are fully credible. The opening chapters, however, are both confusing and chaotic, with few cues to orient young readers to time and place.
Overall, an exciting adventure. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)