Leah R. Cutter’s debut novel soars like the magic creatures that fill its pages. It is the story of Xiao Yen, a young girl from the Middle Kingdom (China) who, in following the path her duty and loyalty have built for her, grows into herself and her gifts in a way that she did not anticipate. Drawing her inspiration from the T’ang era, the author has created a world both magical and real. The novel is deftly woven from two storylines: young Xiao Yen as she is removed from the closeness of her family and undergoes training as a paper mage, and an older Xiao Yen on her first assignment, where she has been hired to protect two foreign merchants – the beginning of an incredible adventure. Unsure of herself and torn between conflicting loyalties and desires, Xiao Yen is an appealing and likable heroine whom it is a great joy to watch unfold and blossom into her true form. Cutter seamlessly integrates the elements of the novel together – Xiao Yen’s growth as a paper mage (and young woman), in a society where women are meant to listen to stories, not to create them; the threat posed to the Middle Kingdom by an ambitious and cruel barbarian horse-lord; and the world itself, where immortals and deities walk the earth and magic is real, with real costs. A stunning debut.