Sadima’s mother died giving birth to her, and her father lives in a state of deep despair, desperately trying to protect Sadima from any kind of danger, real or imagined. However, Sadima has a vigorous spirit and yearns to explore the world outside the family farm:
Sadima lay awake. Sometimes she could not keep to her bed. It felt like slender, tender hands were guiding her as she slid from beneath her blanket and dressed, then went over to the windowsill and dropped into the yard, the grass cool on her bare feet. When she was little, she had just run down the road, then across the meadow on the hill, then back, using a fruit crate she had hidden to get back over the sill. But as her legs got longer, she ran farther – and she didn’t need the crate anymore.
Sometimes she just danced in the cool night air, imagining the world beyond the goat meadows. There was a city far to the west, by the sea. Limòri. Papa said it was a wicked place, that he never wanted her to ask about it again. But Sadima had pestered Micah until he had told her all the stories he’d heard about it and everything he had overheard, too. Half the world was water, Micah said. Sadima wanted to see an ocean. To taste it.
In alternating chapters with Sadima’s story, we learn of Hahp, an eleven-year old second son who lives in Limòri with his affluent family in a world where only first-born sons are valued. Centuries have passed since Sadima’s time and magic is now allowed again but only among the wealthy. Hahp’s father sends him to the secluded wizard academy, along with nine other boys. This is no Hogwarts, though, as evidenced by the foreboding speech given when the boys enter the school:
“We have opened the Great Doors,” a grating voice said. “Soon we will close them again.”
I blinked. There was a wizard at the podium. He was glaring at us as though we had all somehow offended him. Was this the headmaster? I swallowed hard. His pale eyes flickered over the benches, and he cleared his throat but did not speak again. My heart was flailing like a bird trapped in a box. I saw my mother staring.
“The course of study is difficult,” the man finally said in a thick, strained voice, as though each word pained him. “One of your sons will emerge from the Great Doors a wizard – or none will. Some stay…” He fell silent, then went on. “Most who fail stay within our walls and remain with us, becoming part of the school.” He paused again. “Parents will be informed.”
Sadima heads off to the city to explore her own magical talent for communicating with animals and seek out a friend who passed through her town, though nothing turns out quite as she expected. Hahp begins his wizard training which turns out to be bizarre and abusive, like no other schooling you could ever imagine. Some of Hahp’s chapters featuring the cruel and sadistic academy are difficult to read but so compelling that you can’t put the book down. It is definitely not for the faint of heart.
It takes awhile to see how Sadima and Hahp’s stories will eventually connect, and, even once you figure it out, many questions remain as to how events will progress from Sadima’s time to Hahp’s time. I guess I’ll have to read Book Two to find out. My 14-year old son, Jamie, and I can’t wait.
NOTE: Book Two, Sacred Scars, will be released on August 4, 2009.