Thirteen-year-old Elissa is a talented animal-speaker apprenticed to High Crossing's local wise woman, but she finds her simple fortunes changed when she is unexpectedly introduced to the father she never thought she would meet. When she leaves the only home she has ever known to travel with him, she discovers she is being offered to a desert khan as security for troops and money that her father, the prince, needs to stave off threats to the kingdom. After the khan attempts to take Elissa as [End Page 487] one of his many wives, she is rescued by her young servant, Maya, and members of a desert clan known as the Blue People. When the khan's forces pursue the escapees, Elissa must use all her talents if she is to save herself and free the Blue People from their corrupt ruler. The story makes the most of exotic locations, and Elissa is a strong, plucky heroine accompanied by well-written and interesting companions, such as island-born Maya, described with veiled selkie-like references that tease the reader about future events in the series. The enchanting desert city and its creatively conceived denizens, like the vultures that attempt to situate Elissa on their family tree ("Is that Sam's daughter?"), elevate a standard story to an absorbing and even amusing adventure. Verrillo has laid in character and plot hints aplenty to grab readers for this entry in the series and keep them coming back for more.