The Deed of Paksenarrion, the prequel to this book, was a trilogy, the first one written by Elizabeth Moon. In it, Paksenarrion Dorthansdottir rides away from her sheepfarming family and the marriage that has been arranged for her to become a mercenary soldier in a company led by Duke Kieri Phelan of Tsaia. After training in the army and campaigning with him for three years, the Marshals of Gird choose Paks to be taken for training as a Paladin of Gird. But she was captured by cultists of Archyra, the Weaver of Webs, and forced to fight in their twisted arena.
By the time she was rescued, evil had found its way into her soul. It was burned out, but the damage that remained behind made her unfit for combat. Stricken with cowardice, she ran away and starved and froze for a year. Then, she returned to a village where she had been previously, and received healing for some of her wounds. The rest were cured with a season with the Rangers of Lyonya, a neighboring country that is partly or mostly elven. Afterwards, she returns to the nature-priest who healed her, and is granted Paladinship by all the Gods.
After taking care of some other problems, Paks is drawn to Lyonya, where the dying king asks her to find someone to rule after he dies. Some questioning reveals that there is an heir related to the crown, but this heir was attacked as a child with his mother and doesn't remember who he is. Some more questioning reveals that it is her old commander, Kieri Phelan. But with his heritage revealed, factions in Tsaian society don't want to see a strong King on the Lyonyan throne, and he is attacked as he rides to Lyonya with some of his men. Paks offers to trade her life and suffering for his own, and consents to be tortured for a day each for setting Phelan and his four companions free to ride to Lyonya.
Despite the best tortures the Priests of Liart can devise, Paks manages to survive being raped and tortured in various ways. The torture doesn't break her, but it does change her- she accepts the pain, but doesn't react to it except to forgive those who torture her and speak of the better virtues, and thereby changes the mind of many who would follow the evil of Liart. When the time is up, the Liart Priests would kill her, but most of her wounds are miraculously healed and she is protected from death thanks to the Gods. And thanks to Paks, Duke Kieri Artfiel Phelan makes it to Lyonya, where he will take the throne.
This book takes up shortly thereafter, but Paks is not the main character of the book. Instead, this book follows three people whose lives are most changed by Paks' deed.: Kieri Phelan, his former second-in-command Arcolin, and another of his officers, Dorrin Verrakai. Minor characters include Mikaeli Mahieran, the Prince of Tsaia and Stammel, one of the Sergeants of Arcolin's command.
To begin with, Kieri Phelan, although he was a Duke in Tsaia, must ease himself into the role of King of Lyonya. Lyonya has long been at peace, and much of the country belongs to the elves, whose ideas of the proper use of the land is quite different from humans. There are also a great number of half-blooded elf-human hybrids, most of whom believe the same as the elves. As Phelan does honor to the grave of the old King, and cautiously makes plans for his own coronation, he must learn to deal with a country which, to him, is woefully under-defended. He knows he has foes, and it is very possible that those foes will seek to make war with Lyonya because of a grudge against him.
But his council is used to dealing with an old and very cautious king, and even those on the council who are elves are somewhat taken aback at how much Kieri Phelan wants to change things and protect his Kingdom. With him came a cohort of his soldiers, but they will no longer belong to him- he cannot be a Duke of Tsaia and King of Lyonya, and he has nominated Arcolin to take over his lands and leadership of his mercenary company in his place- even to the point of naming Arcolin to replace him as Duke.
Arcolin, meanwhile, is stunned at the news that Kieri Phelan is the rightful King of Lyonya and absolutely flabbergasted at being considered to be Duke in Phelan's place. But he does have the leadership of the mercenary company, and while they can keep the company there over the winter, come spring, he is going to have to take a contract for the company to prevent them from starving and starving out the lands to feed them. He will also have to replace himself and some of the others of the company as leaders, and look for a contract or contracts for his men. As he does that, he must overcome his own feelings of inadequacy to lead and be a Duke.
As Arcolin, like Duke Phelan before him, leads his troops South for a contract, he returns to the same land where Phelan met and fought against Siniava, a southern warlord. Though Siniava was destroyed by Duke Phelan and other mercenary Captains after he went back on his word against them, the former Kingdom where he ruled is under inadequate leadership and is racked with bandits being supplied and weaponed by those out of Kingdom and carried in by merchants who have been threatened.
Arcolin finds one caravan carrying supplies for the bandits, but in the caravan is a man who used to be in Duke Phelan's company. In attempting to question him, he uses magery, paralyzing everyone and strangling Stammel, then turning on Arcolin. Arcolin is helpless, but Stammel revives and manages to kill the man, who, as it turns out, was possessed by a demon. The Demon seeks to take over Stammel, who must them fight against the creature who wishes to posses his body and take it over for its own.
Mikaeli Mahieran is shocked and angered that the Dukedom of Verrakai attacked and attempted to kill Kieri Phelan as he was riding to Lyonya. However, the Verrakai have more plans than just that, and massacre the Marshall of the Knights of the Bells as well as Duke Serrostin. They are only prevented from killing Mikaeli and one of his friends by the timely arrival of yet another friend, who kills the attackers. Mikaeli put the entire house of Verrakai under a bill of attainder. Everyone over the age of 10 is to be detained and thrown in jail for trials and questioning. However, instead of extirpating the House of Verrakai, he sends for Dorrin Verrakai, who fled her family's house and lands when she was still little more than a child, and invests the Dukedom in her, as she is the only Verrakai loyal to the throne, and also to Phelan, who Mikaeli trusts.
Dorrin is shocked that the Prince would do this. She had sworn never to return to her family lands, and as she is serving Duke- now King Phelan, she needs his leave to go, and he gives it. She had often dreamed of returning to her family's lands and making the family something to be proud of, but reality crowded out what she thought of as nothing more than a fantasy. She does, however, share her family's talent for what is known as "Marshal's Magery", although she can do no more than call light with it.
It is her deepest secret, and her deepest shame. When she was young and showed signs of inheriting the magery, her family made her kill a rabbit to show how her magery could grow more powerful when she caused something pain and death. But she was sickened by it, even though her family called her a weakling and coward, and they tried to force her to obey them with force, beatings and torture. She grew to hate her family and tried to flee them many times before she finally managed to escape, and found refuge in a grange of Falk, eventually becoming a knight of Falk.
But Dorrin feels that her mission against her family is hopeless unless she can protect herself and her troops from her family's magery. She asks Paks for help, but Paks isn't called to go with Dorrin. She is called to investigate the situation, and feels that Dorrin has greater magery that is blocked. Who, though, could have done it to her? With the aid of a Marshall of Falk, Paks frees Dorrin's magery. But whether through her own natural talent, the will of Falk or a combination of both, Dorrin proves to have more and greater Magery and talents than anyone in her entire family. With this, she can easily protect her troops and herself. And Prince Mikaeli gives her leave to use her talents, so long as she uses it to protect herself and her troops and find the members of her family who have gone to ground.
She sends her troops on ahead and stays with Paks so she can learn to use her new abilities, then moves off to catch up with her troops. Her homecoming is as she expected- her family calls her a coward and a traitor, and then attempts to kill her with their magic. but her own magery protects her, and she uses her magery to block their access to their own. But when she moves to strip them of their clothing so that she can ensure they have nothing poisoned to use on her men, her mother attempts to kill her with a poisoned hairpin. Once again, Dorrin's magery protects her and the pin strikes her mother instead, killing her quickly.
But deep in her family's house, there are worse horrors to be found- traps and tricks meant to kill, and a horrible legacy of evil, where the young of the family sacrifice their souls so that the adults can be moved into the vacant body. But there is no list of who is inhabiting these children, or where they are located now- only more questions, and more mysteries. But is she the one who will redeem her family name?
I loved Paks' story when I first read it twenty years ago. I was living in New York State then, and I still remember when and where I bought it. It was on a Wednesday, and I had gone into New York City for a NYSFS meeting. I was in Port Authority when I saw the book, Sheepfarmer's Daughter, and I knew I had to pick it up. It was in a little bookstore that closed a few years later (no surprise- few places in Port Authority seem to last for long), and I remember picking up "Divided Allegiance" there about a year later. It completely blew me away.
Reading this book, it was like no time had passed at all, and I was back in Paks' world again. This book series doesn't have her as a main character, though. She does appear a few times in the stories of Dorrin and Kieri Phelan. It was interesting to see how much Elizabeth Moon has grown as a writer, and to see Paks from the eyes of other people rather than being rather firmly stuck in her head.
The main story is how Paks literally changed the world when she went looking for the heir to the throne of Lyonya. The effect of what she did is rippling out from Lyonya and Tsaia, and changing everything it touches. To some, it will bring war, to others peace, or love, or belonging. It's changing everything, and I can't wait to see what happens. Reading this book, it's like no time at all has gone by. and I really enjoyed returning to the world I spend such wonderful time in twenty years ago. Elizabeth Moon's writing is better than it has ever been and even though it's a huge book, I didn't want to stop reading.
I absolutely loved this book, and I'm glad that this will also be a series. Elizabeth Moon's last fantasy trilogy gave us a character to remember, and later, her Herris Serrano and Kylara Vatta books gave us more. I'd like to see more characters of that caliber emerge from this new series, and certainly, Dorrin has that sort of potential. Highly recommended- but read the original trilogy first.