This is an excellent book by a very promising new writer…with a lot of originality, an exciting story, a well realized background, and vivid writing.
Behind its glittering Arabian Nights façade, The Princess of Dhagabad is an intelligent, even philosophical, first novel that marks the author as someone to watch. —Harry Turtledove
The novel’s lyrical language; authentic conjuring of the sights, scents, and trappings of Arabian lore and culture; and engaging characterizations add up to one truly compelling coming-of-age fantasy.
The Princess of Dhagabad “…is a fine recasting of Arabian Nights material into a fable for our times.”
Author Anna Kashina has some unique characteristics that set her apart from most contemporary authors…(She) has beautiful command on the language. Her descriptions are hauntingly vivid.
Lyrical language, colorful descriptions of Arabian culture, and breathtaking adventures are the main features of this remarkable novel of modern fantasy.
“Anna Kashina has created a full and vibrant world for her story. Her characters are richly drawn. I was excited to read a story set in a different world and enjoyed absorbing new lore as set out by the author. The friendship between the princess and the djin is especially touching and grows at a wonderfully slow and real pace. This is a love story, but it does not read like a romance novel. Rather, it is an adventure story filled with realistic relationships, from friendship to love. I look forward to reading the next novel in the trilogy, to be published in September 2012”
PART I: MISTRESS
Chapter 1:White Robes
The rock in her hand shines and sparkles in the sun with all the colors of the rainbow. An ordinary piece of gravel, but the princess imagines it to be a priceless treasure that holds a mystery in its gray depths, a mystery that she as a mere mortal will never comprehend. Little specks of mica that cover the stone gleam in the sun like tiny windows into the unknown. Perhaps the rock traps someone’s immortal soul? And each of its rough curves, so precisely fitting her palm, conceals a magical tale…
The princess starts, hearing distant voices.
“Alamid told me the princess was playing in her favorite corner of the garden.”
The voice belongs to Airagad, the youngest of the princess’s nannies. She is always being sent on errands that involve fetching the princess from places that lie far away from the palace.
The princess recognizes the other deep and soft voice that answers Airagad:
“The sultaness wants to see her in half an hour.”
Nimeth. A slave woman from the desert land Aeth. Her mother’s best friend. According to rumors whispered in the palace—a witch….
“Over there, behind those bushes,” Airagad says.
The princess hears the rustling of footsteps on the gravel. Why can’t they leave her alone? This is, after all, her free time. And she is already practically a grown-up! She will be twelve in a week, and they still seem to think she is a little girl. Why would her mother send for her at this time? As far as she knows, the evening prayer is not due for a while.
Moving as noiselessly as she can, the princess crawls deep into the thick, sweet-smelling jasmine bushes that surround her favorite corner of the garden. Through the intertwining branches she can easily see the curve of the path running around a giant boulder, covered with an elaborate gray-green pattern of succulent plants.
The two women emerge from behind the boulder and stop before an empty glade.
“I don’t understand,” Airagad says with dismay. Her round childish face frowns, and a little vertical line crosses her forehead. “Alamid came back to the palace, and just before, they were playing here together.”
A barely visible smile appears on Nimeth’s dark thin face. The princess knows this smile all too well. It means Nimeth is very sure of herself, and nothing the princess can do will trick her.
“It seems we’ll just have to leave,” Nimeth says matter-of-factly.
“But…” Airagad turns her face to Nimeth and meets the look of her slanting dark eyes.
Nimeth runs her hands over her unusual outfit that the sultaness lets her wear in spite of Dhagabad’s traditions—a long, dark dress trimmed with silver along the neckline and the hem of the skirt. Her thin arm moves to straighten the hair that cascades down her back in a mass of thin braids, and the metal bracelet on her wrist—the sign of slavery—gleams in the sun. Airagad’s arms, bare up to the elbows, have no bracelets on them. Nannies are appointed not from the slave women, but from the free servants.
“I am certain the sultaness wouldn’t mind going to the bazaar in the lower city without the princess,” Nimeth says, slowly and deliberately.
Bazaar! Lower city! Countless hours has the princess spent gazing into the barely visible colorful mass of the lower city from one of the higher balconies of the palace. Countless times she dreamed that a wizard from her favorite tale would appear beside her, and with a mere wave of a hand transport her into that, as she thought, center of life, the focus of all miracles. She has often begged her mother to take her along on one of her usual trips to the bazaar. And every one of those times she had to clench her fists to hold back the tears at the usual response: “You are too young.” But today, finally, her dreams are coming true! It couldn’t be any other way—she is almost twelve now, and no one, not even the sultaness herself, would dare to say she is too young anymore.
Noisily tearing aside the jasmine branches, the princess pops out into the glade.
“Is it true, Nimeth? Is my mother really taking me to the bazaar?”
“Great gods! Princess! I didn’t know you were here!” Nimeth’s eyes narrow down into slits. “Did you lose something in those bushes?”
“I…” The princess hesitates. “This rock,” she says hopelessly, feeling as if she is betraying a friend for the sake of a foolish lie. Witch or not, Nimeth is not easy to fool.
Nimeth lets out a short laugh. “A very valuable thing, princess.”
Her scornful glance stings. Hurt at this contempt toward her newly acquired treasure, the princess blushes and hides the rock behind her back.
“I was hiding,” she confesses. “I thought you and Nanny wanted me to do something boring.”
“Princess!” Airagad exclaims with reproach.
“I value your honesty, princess,” Nimeth says in an icy voice. “But I’ll have to tell the sultaness of your doings, and I can’t guarantee she will still want you to go with her to the bazaar.”
The princess sighs and clenches the rock tighter in her hand.
With a sinking heart she follows Nimeth and Airagad down the winding garden path. To think that she was so close to fulfilling her wish to take a look at the mysterious world outside the palace, and that her own foolishness may have robbed her of that wonderful chance!
The princess looks around the garden, which is blooming wildly after the recent season of rains. Numerous paths, barely visible through the thick bushes, run everywhere like small streams of gravel to merge with one of the main alleys that run straight from the palace to the outside wall. The garden was designed as a half-circle adjoining the back of the palace with three main alleys radiating from the three palace entrances like the beams of the rising sun. From the top of the tallest palace tower this layout indeed resembles the sun. But here, among the greenery, all these windy little paths, ponds, and hidden glades make the garden look more like a spiderweb, wild greenery sprouting out between its delicate silky threads. And as with a web, the princess feels the garden and the adjoining palace are now trapping her in their embrace, like a little fly that sees the outside world from its silky prison but can never set itself free.
She looks at the domes and towers of the palace rising up through the green cloud of trees. From the garden the palace looks completely different than it does from the front, where the central courtyard leads straight to the main gate and the palace plaza. From the front the palace is a single being, all harmony and flight, the big dome, which crowns the throne room and the main ceremonial hall, flowing smoothly into cascades of side galleries and towers that connect the central part of the palace to its four wings. But here, from the garden, the palace looks more like a random collection of buildings that run up to the back of the central dome, barely visible through the forest of leaves and flowers. The princess’s quarters, as well as her mother’s, are located in the south wing, and it is to the south entrance that Nimeth is now directing her firm steps, with Airagad and the princess in her wake. The princess sadly thinks how boring it is to go to her rooms now, leaving behind the greenery and heady aromas of the spring flowers that make her head swim with their rich sweetness. She clenches the little rock in her fist so hard that its rough edges, now warm and moist with the sweat of her palm, dig painfully into her skin.
The gaping doorway of the south wing brings a wave of cool air carrying smells of dust and stone and the barely perceptible aroma of bread baking in the kitchens. The princess steps after Nimeth into the cool shade of the hallway. After the bright sunlight of the garden she can barely see in the dim indoor light, and she nearly runs into Nimeth, who suddenly stops right in front of her.
“I’ll go tell the sultaness that the princess is on her way,” Nimeth says. “Try not to take too long, princess. We’ve lost enough time already.”
“But… ” It is still unclear if the sultaness will want to take the princess along after her misbehavior. But if Nimeth is telling her not to take too long, it means… The princess fearfully looks up into Nimeth’s slanting, impenetrable eyes.
“I’ll see you soon, princess,” Nimeth says gently, and her thin fingers lightly touch the princess’s cheek. Blushing with joy, the princess turns and rushes along the corridor to catch up with Nanny Airagad.