“I had almost nothing useful to offer to our little group. A farm girl’s magic, no wisdom, no guile, no power….My sole claim to having any part of this was that I had made a bargain with a monster because I had no other choice.”

The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle, like Plain Kate which I recently profiled, features a talking cat (although it is hinted at that he is not really a cat). However, overall the book did not grab me enough to keep reading the series. It is however a pretty good GU story.

Genna, 14, has only her brother Dan to accompany her on a dangerous journey to save her ailing mother’s life (her father having disappeared), but their quest quickly becomes much more difficult and far-reaching when they meet a nightling (one of the creatures of the forest more numerous than humans) and learn that their uncle is evil and wants them dead. This leads them underground to the kingdom of the nightling’s lord, where Genna makes a perilous deal to save  her family and indeed her whole town. In turn, she must travel through otherworlds in search of a boy the lord wants to find, and she has little time in which to do it.

Genna is accompanied by the nightling Yarri, her brother, and the talking cat. They are helped along the way by a wise old woman, and pursued by a terrifying huntress and her hounds. After many adventures, Genna is abandoned by all her companions (each having their own reason, although the cat’s decision appears to be the classic betrayal) and must complete the quest alone.

“He meant to leave me alone to do something I had to do, and I did not know if the thing could be done alone.”

Genna finds the person she is seeking, but is separated from him before she can take him back to the lord. She manages to return alone to her home world but is captured and brought back to confront her adversary (I’m guessing her uncle will be a greater adversary in the series as a whole, but in this book the lord is the main one). She defeats him and saves her people with the help of her reunited companions, and in the process discovers that she is much More than she ever imagined, and has a long and dangerous road ahead of her.

“That was a challenge, and presented as such – good and loud, so everyone in the great hall could hear it – and somewhere in the Great Book of Common Sense, which I clearly have never read, I’m sure there’s an entry that says: Fourteen-year-old human girls should never challenge kai-lords.”