Deka has grown up in a highly rigid and patriarchal society, which sees women as being ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. At the age of 16 years, girls are tested by spilling their blood; if their blood runs gold, they are impure and called ‘demons’, meaning they are liable to be killed. Deka is saved by a strange woman, who she calljs White Hands and taken to the capital city to become part of an elite group of women fighters; they are almost immortal and the emperor wants them as his advance guard in a forthcoming war. Deka gradually becomes aware that things are not as straightforward as she had been brought up to believe and her ability to understand the enemy ‘deathshrieks’ is part of the mystery, but also something that will be useful in explaining who she is.
This is a brilliantly original story that uses mythology and African heritage to create a world that is both strange and familiar. The male dominated society is one that we can recognize, but which makes us want to cringe with the unfairness of the behaviour. What is really concerning is that this treatment of women is not a thing of the past, it is very much in evidence in many cultures and groups throughout the world. This is one of those books that makes you want to keep reading to the end; I had that constant feeling that I will read ‘just one more chapter’, something that is not a common event. The development of Deka as a character is very well done and we see her move from believing everything that she has been brought up with, to being someone who questions the society she lives in and whether being different is always a bad thing. I have to mention the absolutely stunning cover of the book; it gives us a real sense of the strength that Deka shows and brings a feeling that we are in a very different culture to our own. Altogether this is probably going to be one of my favourite books this year and it is highly recommended for the YA audience.