To rescue her kidnapped twin brother from the grasp of a mad King, Saba travels across treacherous terrain, encounters all sorts of abominable characters, becomes enslaved and trained into a fighting machine, falls in love and ends up rescuing her people from a corrupt ruler. Saba's twin brother has been kidnapped and she embarks on a quest to find him, a quest which takes her far away from her home in Silverlake and forces her to face challenges on her own. Saba is a scrawny young girl who is content to live in the dry, dust bowl of a place called Silverlake with her Father, her twin brother, Lugh and their younger sister Emmi. Her mother died giving birth to Emmi and ever since then, her Pa has not been the same. Saba and Lugh are very close - they were both born under a full moon on the turning of the year and have a special full moon tattoo on their cheeks to commemorate their special births. The story begins with Lugh feeling restless and wanting to leave Silverlake to find a better place to live. He knows, however, that their father will never leave their mother's grave. One day, Saba and Lugh are caught up in a ravaging dust storm that fills the air with fine red dust. Following the dust storm, strange riders appear. One of the riders is their neighbor Proctor John, a man their father doesn't trust as he is addicted to a drug called chaal.
Saba is horrified to learn that Proctor John has betrayed them as these strange men want Lugh. Lugh tells Saba to run back to the house to get help while he leads the riders away. When Saba tells her Pa what is happening, she is surprised to learn that he expected such a day to come. Together, they attempt to prevent the riders from kidnapping Lugh, however her Pa is shot down by a bolt shooter and Lugh is taken away. Before they ride away, Lugh screams to Saba that she must take care of Emmi and keep herself safe. Saba vows that she will find him and free him no matter what it takes.
Saba buries her father and is impatient to start on her quest to find her brother. But first, she has to find a safe place for her younger sister Emmi. She decides to take Emmi to live with Mercy, who is a close friend of their family. During the trip, Saba takes note of which direction the hoof-prints are going so that she can track her brother. She is impatient and annoyed that she has to take care of Emmi however as the journey continues, she begins to worry that Emmi won't be able to make the difficult trip through the desert. Eventually, Saba finds Crosscreek where Mercy lives. Mercy listens to Saba's description of what happened and tells Saba that it sounds like the work of the Tonton. The Tonton are sellswords that work in a place called Hopetown. Hopetown is where Mercy met Saba's parents and it's a town full of cheats and druggies and all-around bad people. To get to Hopetown, Saba must cross the Sandsea which is a sand desert. Mercy also tells Saba that on the night she and Lugh was born, a stranger named Trask had been a guest at their house. The stranger had gotten excited to learn that they gave birth to a son in midwinter as this is a rare thing. Immediately, after Lugh's birth, the stranger disappeared. Mercy thinks that Trask might be behind Lugh's kidnapping.
Saba sets off on her journey the next day. She crosses the Sandsea desert, where she becomes disoriented and the sun beats down on her. One day, she is awakened by a noise and finds out that Emmi had stolen one of Mercy's horses and ridden out after her. Saba is horrified that Emmi is out here with her and also that they had treated Mercy's hospitality so poorly by stealing her horse. But it is too late to turn back so Saba and Emmi continue on the trek through Sandsea. One day, they encounter a sand boat crewed by Captain Rooster Pinch and his wife Miz Pinch. Saba is immediately suspicious but eventually she asks Rooster Pinch for a ride to Hopetown. During the trip, they eat a meal which was drugged to make them fall asleep. When they awaken they are chained and treated like slaves on the sand ship.
Eventually, Saba is sold to a Cage Master who obeys a fearsome man called DeMalo. The Cage Master organizes fights in a place called the Colosseum. Saba eventually builds a reputation for herself in cage fighting, earning the nickname Angel of Death. Emmi has been sold as a water carrier slave - a child that brings fresh water to the troughs that run along the cages where Saba and the other fighters are kept. Saba is proud to see Emmi able to take care of herself. She befriends another cage fighter called Helen. By some odd coincidence, Saba learns that Trask was Helen's father and he has been sent to a place called Freedom Fields which is deep in the Black Mountains. She learns from Helen that the King rules over Hopetown and all the lands surrounding it, including Freedom Fields. DeMalo is the King's man and the Tonton are the King's personal soldiers. Helen relates the information that the King is mad and believes strange things, one of them that the King will live if a boy born in midwinter is killed at midsummer. Helen tells Saba that every six years an eighteen year old boy born in midwinter is sacrificed to ensure the King continues to live. Before Helen can say anymore, she is taken away by the Cage Master's guards. Saba never sees her again.
One day, as Saba is being transported between fights, she meets a warrior girl named Maev who claims to be a part of a clan of warrior girls called the Free Hawks. One of Maev's girls, Epona, has been captured and forced into the cage fighting world but Maev wants to free her. She agrees to help Saba get out if Saba helps Epona stay alive while she is embroiled in the cage fighting activities. Saba agrees. She tells Epona her plan to "run the gauntlet" which is an activity that a fighter is forced to do if they lose three times against an opponent. During the gauntlet it is customary for the citizens of Hopetown to try their best to trample and kill the fighter. Saba plans to make it so that it looks like the Free Hawks have swarmed over her to kill her but in reality they are going to help her get out of Hopetown.
As planned, Saba starts to lose her fights. After the losses, she is confronted by Miz Pinch who turns out to be the King's Mother! Miz Pinch tells the King that she suspects Saba is up to something, that she lost the fight on purpose. Saba meets the mad King for the first time and is severely disturbed by his crazed behavior but the King believes that she is honestly losing her fights. Finally, Saba is sentenced to the gauntlet. The plan plays out perfectly and Saba is bent on escaping Hopetown with Emmi however Maev convinces Saba to stay and help her rescue the other enslaved fighters. They rescue most of the fighters and set fire to Hopetown. Saba even rescues a male fighter named Jack, who she befriended while she was imprisoned. There is a brief moment of chemistry between Jack and Saba as Jack obviously has feelings for Saba but Saba hasn't had time to sort out her feelings for him and is confused about him.
Maev suggests that Saba go back with them to their base in a place called Darktrees. Before they can go there, however, they are chased down by the Pinches on their sand ship. After a brief altercation, the sand ship loses control and crashes, killing the Pinches. The Free Hawks and Saba ride away before the Tontons can come and find them. At Darktrees, Saba and Emmi rest up. Maev tries to convince Saba not to continue on her quest as it is a dangerous one but Saba is determined. She reunites with Jack who tells her he can show her the way to Freedom Fields. They set off on their trip to the Black Mountains which is the quickest route to Freedom Fields. One day, they notice someone following them. They set up traps to catch whoever it is and discover two of the Free Hawks - Epona and Ash - have decided to come with them. Saba is annoyed because she thinks this whole team of people are going to slow her down rather than help her but truthfully it is because she is jealous since Ash and Jack seem to get along so well while Saba and Jack have a tense relationship.
One day, they are caught in a rainstorm which floods a river they were trying to cross. Saba is swept away while trying to rescue Emmi who had fallen in the river. She is horrified as the river is full of human bones. Jack manages to rescue her and he tells her they are even now - she's rescued him and he paid her back. Then, he tries to kiss her, but Saba pushes him away because she's used to being alone and is afraid of caring for another person on such a dangerous mission as any moment, any of them could die.
During the trip, Jack tells Saba the truth - that he came looking for her and the Free Hawks because he was hoping to get their help to destroy Freedom Fields and topple the King. Jack had worked on Freedom Fields himself before managed to escape and he can't leave the other slaves there to toil for the rest of their lives. They all agree to help each other out and save not only Lugh but all the other slaves.
In order to get to Freedom Fields they must cross a dried out lake that is infested with giant, deadly worms that come out at night. The group end up unable to complete their crossing over the lake-bed during the day and have to wait out the night. Jack comes up with a plan to fend off the creatures using fire. During the night, they have to battle off the worm creatures. Just when they think they've won the fight, the biggest worm creature of all appears and they run like mad to get away from it. The worm creature chases Saba and Jack. Jack stops running and tries to shoot it down with a cross bolt but the worm creatures knocks him out. Saba ends up fighting the worm creature and subduing it so that it leaves them alone.
Saba and her group finally reach Freedom Fields. She and Jack have grown closer over the course of their adventure. They await midsummer's eve when the King's crazy ceremony will take place. When the day comes, they free Lugh while Epona distracts the Tonton. Eventually, Saba and Epona reach an understanding that Epona can't escape the Tonton and that Saba should kill her to prevent them from taking her and torturing or enslaving her. Saba grieves over the loss of her friend, the price she had to pay for her brother's life. During their escape, Saba also learns that Emmi had fallen off her horse and the Tonton had taken her prisoner. Eventually, the King himself rides up to Saba and her group with Emmi in tow. He says he will trade Emmi for the Angel of Death. Saba surrenders herself but finds out it is a trap as DeMalo and a group of Tontons appear. Just when all seems lost, however, the Free Hawks arrive on the scene. Instead of following the King's orders and killing Saba, DeMalo frees Saba. In the ensuing altercation, the King is shot down. He still manages to ride away, however, and Saba chases after him. Eventually, Saba's pet crow flies at his face from out of nowhere, throwing him off balance so that he falls off a cliff and dies.
In the end, Saba finally admits she loves Jack. Jack tells her he still has unfinished business to take care of but once it's done he will come back and find her. Saba is just happy to have Lugh and Emmi safe and sound and the Free Hawks as her family. She looks forward eagerly to their next unknown adventure.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like Moira Young's unique way of telling Saba's story. The story is written almost in the style of a stream-of-consciousness story, with the dialogue flowing seamlessly with the narrative. It was also written in Saba's voice which captures her uneducated diction down to details such as things being misspelled or mispronounced.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Saba runs the gauntlet as the scene unfolds with the appropriate epic-ness that sends shivers down your spine as you read it. That particular scene also captures Saba's character as a strong, fearless girl who isn't afraid of her imminent death and isn't afraid to defy her terrifying masters.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Saba's personality is crusty around the edges - she's a loner at heart and isn't afraid to embark on dangerous missions by herself. In fact, she frequently gets annoyed when people like Emmi or the Free Hawks decide to tag along after her. It was particularly amusing that Saba was paired with Jack, who is the complete opposite of her as he is very social and easy going while she is very easily tense and suspicious.