Rhia's people are still fighting the Descendants/Illionders, but things are going badly for her people. The Illionders have become an occupying force in her homeland, and her people refuse to acknowledge the power the soldiers hold over them. Some, like Rhia's brother Lycas, have become freedom fighters, setting traps for the Illionders and doing everything in their power to fight the enemy. Others merely try to live their lives under the strictures the Illionders have placed on them.
Nilik, Rhia and Marek's son, has gone on his Bestowing. to find the animal spirit that will guide his life, when Lycas returns to see Rhia, Lycas is a Wolverine, and when Nilik returns, it transpires that he has also been accepted by Wolverine. Since everyone expected him to be a Raven Child, this is quite a shock, but Nilik wants to go to Velekos to fight with his uncle. Especially when he finds out that Lania, the girl he was interested in, was killed by Descendant soldiers, for which they have received a mere slap on the wrist.
But Rhia won't let him go to Velekos because of a vision she had when Nilik was born, that he would die in Velekos. By this time, she and Marek also have another child, a daughter named Jula, a Mockingbird. a Trial for any mother, but especially so for Rhia, since Mockingbirds and Crows often fight. She and her daughter are always fighting, with Jula sniping at her mother and not respecting her. Rhia makes Lycas promise that, after he leaves, if Nilik follows him, he will send Nilik back, and Lycas agrees, asking her to choose a password if she changes her mind. She does, but Jula guesses the password and passes it on to her brother to help him do what he wishes.
Meanwhile, Lycas's daughter, Sura, must leave her home when the Descendants outlaw anyone with third-level powers. They take her mother captive, but she is able to escaoe through a hidden tunnel and makes her way to Kalindon, where she meets a snake named Dravek. Sura has never had a bestowing, but feels that she is also a snake. Two people of the same animal aspect are not supposed to be with each other, but she and Dravek feel an attraction to and for each other that passes all bounds of what is normal and what is allowed.
Worse yet, Dravek is getting married to Kara, a woman who is a wolf. Not many people trusted him, but she has fallen in love with him. She offers to let him out of his promise to marry her, but he doesn't want to want Sura and doesn't accept her offer. He sets her on her bestowing, and at the same time, asks Snake for a message- is he meabt to have Sura, or is he misreading the situation? But there is no response from Snake, so he distances himself from Sura as much as he is able. But he still has to mentor her, and their closeness continually evokes thoughts of sex. Their powers, when they touch each other, are explosive.
And when they dance together, as they do at Kara and Dravek's wedding, the fire burns white-hot. But none of the other people in the village are snake, so none of them have a clue for what it means. Kara and Dravek go off to mate, Sura is propositioned by Etarek, another warrior in the village- but it's a very strange proposition. He wants them to have a baby together. Not out of love, but so that his father can communicate mentally with the other elder of his animal. Sura flatly turns him down.
Meanwhile, Kara and Dravek travel to another city for Dravek to meet with another Snake, Vara. Because Dravek won't be around to tutor her, Sura and Etarek go with him and his new bride so that they will also have more people to protect each other. But Kara soon learns that Dravek doesn't love her with the same intensity, causing a fracture in their relationship. Sura has become persuaded to Etarek's plan and lays with him all along on the journey.
Rhia, in search of Nilik, gets captured by Descendants. She expects to be tortured, but she isn't. Instead, the commander treats her well. But she is placed next to Sura's mother, Mali, in the cells, and Mali, who is of the Wasp, is just about unkillable. So he has to come up with a different way to torture her. He's placed her in a cell too small for her, and feeds her only rotting meat and swill. Rhia tries to help her, but Mali refuses to be helped. And then the Commander decides to use Rhia to help question and torture his prisoners, because he knows she can tell when someone is dead or about to die... like Lycas's second in command, Sirin, who the Commander wants to kill. Rhia tells him Sirin is dead when he really isn't, and Sirin lives. But he blames Rhia for collaborating with the enemy.
Rhia is eventually freed by Marek, her husband, and her daughter Jula, who impersonate soldiers, and have her "executed", but she isn't able to prevent Nilik's death, and worse awaits her people. Some of the totems are dying, like Bear and Wolverine. So many Descendants have come into the lands of Rhia's people, and so much blood has been spilled to try and drive them out that the spirits of war and vengeance are weakening- almost fatally so. When Lycas is nearly killed in battle, he has a meeting with Wolverine that drives this point home, and he tries to imprison the Descendants without killing them.
But if Nilik isn't the one who will be Raven-aspected, who will it be? Can Rhis and her people drive out the Descendants without killing them or spilling so much blood that they kill off their own totems? Is there any way to win the war without Rhia's people losing who they were? And what event will win the war without killing the spirits of both Rhia's people and the descendants?
This was a tension-fraught third and final book in the series about Rhia. The last time we saw her, she was a young mother who had to reclaim her child, Nilik, when he was stolen from her. Now, it's almost 20 years later, and her children are about to become mothers and fathers in their own right. But Nilik wasn't Raven-born, he was Wolverine, and I tried to think of how he could be both. In a way, I was right, but about the wrong person. I thought that Rhia would gain her third-stage power, bring Nilik back from the dead, and he would be Raven born then.
And yes, I was wrong. He dies and is never brought back. Someone else is the Raven born, but becomes one through an act of rebirth when his Animal abandons him. At the end of the book, Rhia's people become the Reawakened. There are hints that this has happened before, but not very often. And the Animal Spirits must also become reawakened to lead Rhia's people into the future.
To be sure, I didn't forsee how the book would end, but I did enjoy it a lot. I enjoyed the stories of the battles, and how the spirits changed how powers were given. Before, it was when children or grandchildren were born, but with the battles against the Descendants/Illionders, that was too easily perverted when young men and women decided to have children, no matter the cost for doing so, that they didn't love or really want. We see the costs of doing so firsthand. Sura has a child and loses her short term memory for well over a year, and Dravek accidentally erases a year of Kara's memories in a moment of pique. And so it is changed forever.
I liked this book. It was the liking of seeing a story I was deeply invested in finally end and seeing what happened to characters I enjoyed reading about, along with getting to know and feel for an entirely new crop of characters. Even though it had been a long time since I had read about them, reading the words brought them all back to me once more. This is a story you are bound to love. Recommended.