Claidi has always been a slave in The Garden. She works for a spoiled and nightmarish princess named Lady Jade-Leaf, who abuses her servants and punishes seemingly at random on the merest of whims. One day she steals a book from her horrible owners and begins to keep a diary of her experiences.
One day, a man in a balloon crashes on their kingdom and is taken prisoner by the palace guards. He comes from the Waste, the territory that surrounds the Garden and made up mostly of desert. There are terrible stories about the waste: that all the water is poisoned, that no plants or animals live there, that the desert-hardened bandits and wanderers are crazy and filled with unspeakable demons of the mind and body. This man seems so distinguished, though, so gentlemanly, that Claidi finds herself wondering if this is true.
One of the Elders, in a moment of surprising compassion, speaks to Claidi, and tells her to free Prince Nemian and herself and to escape into the Waste. Claidi wastes no time for once in doing the bidding of her masters and the prince and Claidi escape into the Waste. There, they encounter a variety of people and places - some of which stay true to the horror stories of The Garden, but many of them not. These places include: a village where all the people talk like sheep, a place where people all dress like birds, music-loving gypsies who steal when they must but are just as quick to give in return, and a mystical steampunk city that worships a giant clock.
Claidi falls for Nemian, but in time she begins to doubt her affections, particularly when she sees him fooling around with one of the gypsies - and she starts to fall for the leader, Argul, and he for her. But Nemian has plans for her, and whether or not these plans are in keeping with her expectation remains to be decided . . . by you reading this book!
Gosh. I'm . . . speechless. This was really good. Really, really good. I read and adored Silver Metal Lover, which was incredibly well-written in spite of the cheesy title. But this is so much better. Lee says in the author's note that she lives and dreams about her stories. I can definitely see that. Her passion comes alive in her vivid descriptions and beautiful characterizations. Reading this was so fresh and original, and Claidi is just imminently likable. I have no cause for complaint at all.
Definitely a must for fans of Karen Cushman, Gail Carson Levine, Tamora Pierce, or Monica Furlong - or any fan of strong female protagonists and well-developed worlds!