Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher

Two thousand years ago, in ancient Persia, a young girl and her little brother wander among the market stalls of the city of Rhagae. Fourteen-year-old Mitra and five-year-old Babak are the children of Vardan, who risked everything to defy King Phraates. When the king’s men invaded their home, Mitra and Babak fled at their mother’s command. Now they are alone, and the best shelter they can find is in the caves of the City of the Dead, a place full of bones where only the desperate would dare to go.

Tender-hearted Babak wants to befriend the others who inhabit the caves, but Mitra knows they must hold themselves aloof, as befits their royal blood. “Remember who you are,” her grandmother had always told her. Mitra hopes that she and Babak can one day rejoin their kin in Palmyra, far to the west. For now, they must steal food to survive, and Mitra must hide their identity for fear of reprisal from the king’s spies.

Their fortunes begin to change one day when the lynx-fur hat of a Scythian is among their spoils. Babak slept that night with the man’s hat beneath his head and awakened the next morning telling of a vivid dream about the birth of the Scythian’s child. When events confirm that Babak’s dream is true, word quickly spreads about Babak’s ability to divine the secret wishes of other people. His gift draws the attention of a powerful Magus, who along with his fellow priests of the Wise God, is seeking a newborn king of the Jews whose signs are written in the stars.

Soon Mitra and Babak become part of the Magi’s caravan, heading west to Judea. Mitra is filled with new hope, for Palmyra is also west! Perhaps they can escape the caravan and go there, but for now she has another worry. Babak’s fragile strength has been overtaxed by too long dreaming the dreams of others, and he is desperately ill.

When the newborn king they came so far to seek turns out to be a poor child in a rustic village, something in Mitra begins to shift. What are all their grand dreams compared to the acts of love and mercy that she in her pride has been unable to see? Healing for Babak and someone to love her as she truly is become the deepest desires of her heart, enabling her to find the home she has sought so long.

Susan Fletcher brilliantly evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of the desert lands—the hot, wind-blown sand by day, the cool panorama of stars by night. She perfectly depicts the mystery-laden search of the Magi, the deep hopes within their hearts as well as those in the hearts of two destitute children. Hers is a well-told tale about humility and majesty, a discovery of the truly great things of the earth.

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