Set in the near future and inspired by the captivating myth of the warrior queen Califia, this brilliantly inventive novel tells the story of a small, peaceful community of women tucked away in a world gone mad.
Only the elders of the Valley remember life the way it used to be, when people traveled in automobiles and bought food others had grown. When the ratio of male to female was nearly the same. Before the bombs fell, and a deadly virus claimed the world's men.
Now, civilization's few surviving males are guarded by women warriors like Dian, the Valley's chief protector, as fierce and loyal as the guard dogs she trains. When an unexpected convoy of strangers rides into her village, it is
Dian who meets them, ready to do battle.
To her surprise, the visitors come in peace and bear a priceless gift, whose arrival is greeted with as much suspicion as delight. And indeed, the strangers want something in return, a request that could change the future of
the Valley into one of hope--or utter desolation.
It is up to Dian to discover their motive, in a journey that will cost her far more than she ever imagined, a journey from which she may never return.
From the Paperback edition.
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December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Califia's Daughters by Leigh Richards
From a distance, there was nothing on the hillside, nothing but the dry grasses of late summer and a smattering of scrub bushes beneath the skeleton of a long-dead tree. From a distance, no unaided human eye could have picked out the dun and dusty figures from the grass around them; nonetheless, they were there, one long, slim human and two massive dogs. They had been on the hillside since morning, and they moved little.
Their presence had not gone completely undetected. An hour earlier a small herd of white-tailed deer quartering the hillside had abruptly cut short its graze to veer nervously away. Twice, sentinel quail settling into the arms of the twisted stump had alerted their flock to direct their attentions elsewhere. And now a turkey vulture appeared above the far side of the valley, gliding in languid circles on the updraft that rose off twenty acres of crumbling asphalt and debris, the remains of an office complex from Before. The bird spotted the three prone figures and sifted the wind through the distinctive fingers of her pinions, sidling across the currents to take a position a hundred feet above the invisible figures. Hopeful thoughts flickered through her tiny brain and she dropped lower, then lower still, until one of the bodies jerked about to gnaw its flank, and another, the long one, turned its face to the sky and waved an arm. Faint avian disappointment came and went at these unmistakable signs of life, and the bird slid sideways toward the next valley. The three figures resumed their motionless watch.
Now, however, their stillness was one of alertness, even tension, rather than mere waiting. The human, no longer completely covered by the diminishing shadow of the grease bush, stared intently through a pair of large and ancient Artifact binoculars at the hillside ten miles away, where a faint haze of dust teased up from the ridge. In a few minutes the haze solidified into a cloud, its source coming clear: travelers. Eyes--blue human, yellow canine--focused on the spot, watching the drift of dust move down the face of the hill, saw the half-obscured wagons pause to weigh the temptation of the direct route through the Remnant against the unknown threats it could hide, saw the travelers turn to circle well clear of the tumbled remains. When the wagons had safely negotiated the dry streambed and regained the road, when it became clear that the travelers were firmly committed to the left-hand fork, the binoculars went into their case, the weapons were gathered up, and woman and dogs slithered over the top of the hill and disappeared.
Two hours later, near the place where the road's left fork dwindled to its end, another woman watched for another small cloud of dust to rise against a backdrop of trees, chewing her lip with impatience. Her name was Judith, and she sat perched on the top step of a sprawling old farmhouse that had once been painted white, shelling dried beans. Her bare toes were drawn back from the hot edge of the sun on the next step down; the worn boards and pathway below were thick with beans that had missed the bowl under the sharp, irritable jerks of her work-hardened fingers.
Judith didn't even see the waste she was making. Her eyes were on the Valley entrance, her inner gaze fixed on that vision of the morning's frantic activity--no, call it what it was: panic, mindless and dangerous, that had gone on far, far too long. Bringing the Valley into line had been like pushing a laden cart uphill, and Judith ached with the strain. But at last the long-unused emergency drills were recalled, and order jerkily took hold, and finally the gears meshed and things ran smoothly: guards out, weapons ready, all metaphorical hatches securely battened.