Sixteen year old Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City as a toddler. She has only the vaguest memories of life before she came there. Unlike the other girls in the City, who are assigned to one of the seven houses that specialize in certain types of education (medicine, music, beauty, combat, discipline etc), she has been trained in several. As the assistant to the head of the City, she is used to gather information on all the goings on in the City. When one of the girls dies, Nisha’s job is to find out more about it. When a second girl dies, Nisha is sure it was connected and it was murder- but can she find out who is behind it? And will the young man she has met- a member of the ruling family- speak for her when the yearly festival comes around, the festival where the sixteen year old girls are married or sold off?
It’s an enjoyable novel with a lot of intrigue. It has an Asian feel to it; in some ways, it seems Japanese with the martial arts and girls being trained in one house as geisha like companions; at times it seemed Indian. There are people who are clearly Romany. But the girls hair, skin and eyes span the range of human coloration. Then there are the cats who communicate telepathically with Nisha….
In some ways, the novel reminded me of Andre Norton, but a beginner Andre Norton. The characters are somewhat flat, and the main suspect for the deaths is Sashi, a blind novice in the house of medicine; some of the things the killer does could not have been done by an unsighted person unaided. It’s obviously a first novel, but the author shows a lot of promise.