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Maia (1984) by Richard Adams

Maia is a "prequel" to Shardik and takes place largely in Bekla, the center of the Beklan Empire. (Shardik takes place a few years later, in Ortelga, Bekla, and other provinces.)

Maia is the story of a beautiful young peasant girl who is first seduced by her rogueish stepfather, then sold into slavery by her jealous mother.

Maia is sent to the city of Bekla and becomes a "bed girl" in the household of one of the most rich, powerful, fat, and grotesque men in the city. One of the things that makes Maia interesting is that she often doesn't fully understand the implications of what's happening around her, particularly when she enters the world of political intrigue. Fortunately she has a friend, Occula, an exotic and world-wise young woman from beyond the great desert. Occula is one of the most interesting characters in the book because of her strength and determination, some of which the reader is allowed to see more clearly than Maia does because of her naivete.

Adams included good maps of Bekla and the Empire, and when introducing Beklan words he italicized and defined them on first reference but included no glossary. I thought a dictionary would be useful to keep handy while reading, so here one is! Feel free to print it out to keep by you as you read. I hope you like Maia as much as I do! It did take me a couple of readings before I felt entirely comfortable with the whole "political intrigue" plot, but if you pay close attention, it'll help. There's also a handy "cast of characters" in the front of my copy, which helped me a great deal.