Twelve-year-old Keara runs away rather than sacrifice Caw, the darkbeast she has been bound to all her life, and pursued by the Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, she joins a performing troupe of Travelers.
Keara's pivotal birthday is upon her-- she will turn 12, making her an adult in her medievalish world, and she will need to kill Caw, her darkbeast. All children have companions that are bonded to them at birth and to whom they take all of their rebellion and bad qualities. Most children hate their darkbeasts, who tend to be rats, snakes, and toads, but Keara has always loved Caw, a crow, and finally decides that instead of killing him, they will run off together with the Travelers, roving actors who put on sacred and common plays throughout the land. The Travelers are leery of taking in Keara, but she is willing to help them, and makes friends with Vala, who is her age. When the troupe wants to win a competition, they put together a new sacred play that involves all 12 gods at once, but are then accused of heresy. This is bad for Keara, since failing to kill her darkbeast was also an affront to the gods, and she lives in fear that an Inquisitor will hunt her down. The Travelers seem to be the safest people to stay with despite their cultural differences, but will they stand by her?
This was a very well-constructed fantasy world, and Keyes did not make the mistake of over-explaining the differences-- they were just shown through the narrative. Keara's actions are motivated by how she has been raised, even though she is flying in the face of the biggest cultural expectations. The characters are also well-developed and likable, and the action and adventure pulled me in to the story. Great cover!