The date is 1622. The setting is the Mughal Empire. In the opening scene Jahani is visiting a local market with her friend Sameela. In a few says Sameela is to be married. The market is busy and crowded. Someone knocks Jahani over.
"Jahani lost her footing and was just regaining her balance when a man knocked her over. ... 'Sami?' Jahani shook Sameela's shoulders but her fingers came away sticky."
Her best friend is dead but it seems the assassin was actually after Jahani. A young man steps up and picks up Sameela and guides them home. His name is Azhar. On this same day Jahani discovers her precious mother Hafeezah is not really her mother. Her parents, she is told, sent her away when she was four years old to a distant region to keep her safe. Now Jahani and Hafeezah, accompanied by Azhar and a very special horse called Chandi will make the long and dangerous journey back to the home of her parents. There are, however, more surprises in store because when she arrives her father Baqir has betrothed her to a war lord called Muzahid Baig and this marriage will take place in just a few days.
Living with Baqir and his wife Zarah are several snow leopards. One in particular called Yazan befriends Jahani. In fact Jahani seems to have a very special affinity with animals. She has so many questions and while it does seem Azhar knows the answers he never seems to fully explain anything. Then comes another huge shock for Jahani. Zarah and Baqir are not really her parents after all. She is a nomad girl. In the final scenes of this first book Jahani flees her marriage and joins the nomads. She is also pursued by the demon king Dagar Khan. He has heard a prophesy about a girl with red hair.
Beware the woman with the leopard's heart
Crowned in flame beneath a bloodless sun
The wretched daughter of a broken king
Come to seal what was rightfully won.
Jahani is now on the run so it is important to change her appearance especially since she has very distinctive flame coloured hair. I did enjoy the scene where the nomad women dye her hair and add extra piercings to her ears. If you pick up this book have a read of pages 204-207 as a way to preview this story. My other favourite scene comes when Azhar finally takes Jahani for a ride on his flying carpet. I found it quite exhilarating.
Here is a set of comprehensive teaching notes. This book would make an excellent novel study for a junior high school class. I also recommend this book for mature senior primary students. I picked up this book myself after reading this review by Megan Daley. I am a huge fan of Rosanne Hawke - my favourite book is Soraya the storyteller. Daughter of Nomads was also listed as a CBCA notable title for 2017.