Sarah of Doíre is the daughter of a witch, and grew up with no powers whatsoever. Unluckily, her brother wasn't so fortunate, but his powers were paltry things- enough to get him laughed at, perhaps, while he taunted his sister for not having any powers at all. With the death of their mother, Sarah decided she wanted to get out of Doíre, and scrimped and saved nearly enough gold to do so, when her brother told her that he was off to destroy the world.
But when she decided to take her money and go, she found that her brother had taken it all, leaving her nearly penniless. With no other choice, and realizing her brother needs to be stopped, she has little choice but to turn to the great mage, the wizened old man who lives on the mountain.
That mage's name is Ruith, and he is neither wizened nor old, but he hides himself because of a great tragedy that occurred when he was young. His father, the mage known as Gair, opened a great well of evil, just to prove he could. He claimed to want to cap it again immediately after, but the evil magic overwhelmed him, destroying Gair, his sons, and his daughter Morghainn. Ruith, one of Gair's sons, was the only one to survive, and he wished to put all memory of it from his mind. So, he buried his magic deep and lives among spells of illusion and cloaking to hide from the world and from other mages.
When Sarah shows up at his home, his first thought is to refuse her- and so he does. She goes off in high dudgeon to try and stop her brother Daniel herself, but is completely unprepared for doing so, and Ruith, who feels badly about the way he's treated her, but can't admit it, even to himself, so instead he decides to accompany her to the nearest town, attracted to her, but afraid of her reaction should be tell her who he really is.
But when they get to town, both of them discover that Daniel has uncovered part of one of his father's spells from his spellbook, and even that part-spell is dangerous. Daniel has been using it to try and steal the magic and power of other mages, starting with a man named Oban. But while the spell is dangerous, it is incomplete, and Daniel only succeeded in stealing the man's voice.
But Ruith is frightened by what such a bad mage is capable with with only part of one of his father's spells, and although he doesn't want anything to do with Sarah or Daniel, he also can't let his father's spells and spellbook fall into the hands of true evil mages, many of whom would kill, maim or destroy the world to get the spells in his father's book. And Daniel is not the only one who has found a page from his father's spellbook.
So he is stuck with a group of damaged mages on a quest to find Daniel and regain the spells from his father's spellbook. But how can he do that without revealing who he is and alienating Sarah, who he has come to care for, forever?
I found this an interesting book, as I have read the other books in the Nine Kingdoms series before. But I have to admit, I was rather taken aback to realize that the main character was part of the same family as Morghainn. I didn't really have a problem with that exactly, nor that this book is a prequel (as far as I could tell) to the first three books, but it's going to seem ridiculous and overdone if every single member of the family somehow survived and the others never knew- Morghainn had an excuse- her memory got wiped. But it's going to seem less plausible if every single one of her brothers survived the same cataclysm that supposedly wiped out the family.
I did like Sarah, I found her a character who is almost too good to be believed at the beginning, but as time went on, I found I liked her a lot. There was a genuineness in the way that she and Ruith interacted, and I ould definitely feel when she was falling for him. His reaction was more told than shown, but it made me believe it as well.
I liked this book, but I hope that further books about the Nine Kingdoms after this one don't involve the rest of Ruith and Morghainn's brothers (hint, hint... okay, I am begging here!) as I could easily find myself getting tired of that background/plotline. Recommended.