Twelve-year-old Sai lives in the kingdom of Mangkon and is assistant to Master Paiyoon, who had served for more than 20 years as the master mapmaker of the Mangkon Royal Navy. Paiyoon is the last mapmaker of his kind, and Sai is quietly and unobtrusively learning to emulate his skills. But every day, her secret haunts her. Mangkon society’s motto, “The Tail is the Teeth”—meaning “that no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t escape who you were or where you came from”—limited the future prospects of anyone whose living family members and ancestors were disreputable, poor, or ignoble. And Sai’s father is a criminal and con man, a reality she can never share with anyone.
When Sai learns that the Queen of Mangkon has ordered an expedition to discover a southern continent rumored to be guarded by dragons and spirits, and that Paiyoon will be on board the ship Prosperity as the mapmaker, she envisions finally escaping her father and decides that the kingdom’s motto won’t be true for her.
On the ship, Sai at first takes everyone at face value, but soon she realizes that many of the ship’s crew and passengers have secrets of their own. When Sai gives in to the temptation to make a name for herself, she misjudges those who sought to take advantage of her and betrays those who had her best interest at heart. But when all seems lost, she understands that she can never run away from her past or change what had come before, but she can make choices about her future.
Author Christina Soontornvat’s spirited fantasy novel for middle school readers combines swashbuckling adventure and satisfying plot twists with emotionally complex characterization and keen insight into social justice issues. (Candlewick)