Regis Hastur is lord of the Hastur clan on Darkover, and he and his grandfather, Danvan Hastur, have been fighting the slow loss of the Comyn. The Hasturs are the strongest and most powerful family left, but Regis isn't happy to be the head. He would rather have been a spacefarer, to have left Darkover and explored the stars. But when he realized that to do so would let down not only his family and domain, but the planet as well, he gave up on that life, and those dreams.
His grandfather wants him to marry and settle the rights of succession, but Regis hasn't yet found a woman who he wants as much, or whom he loves as much, as his Paxman, Danilo Syrtis. Danilo, whom he met when they both were boys at Nevarsin Monastery, so he resists his grandfather's coercions.
Meanwhile, Regis is called to the Terran medical center, where the son of the Terran Legate, a boy known as Felix, has gone into what seems to be dangerously strong and prolonged threshhold sickness. Regis does what he can with his laran, resisted by the boy's mother, Tiphani, who views what Regis does as sorcery and witchcraft. Ultimately, though, he discovers that Felix has come into contact with and bonded with a laran stone, a matrix, and will soon die if he is denied access to it. His mother has taken it away from him, but when the stone is returned, he recovers.
Meanwhile, Regis discovers, on his grandfather's death, that he has an older brother, an emmasca, who was sent away to Nevarsin as a small baby, and Regis never knew about him. Needless to say, Regis immediately travels to Nevarsin with Danilo to bring his brother back to the Comyn and to the life he should have had.
But Danilo, who was raised by the Cristoforo monks that run Nevarsin, doesn't trust Rinaldo, or Brother Valentine, as he was known. Something about the man rubs him the wrong way, and causes a bit of hard feelings between him and Regis. But when he is home and accepted into the bosom of his family, he meets Tiphani Lawson, who quickly bonds with him over religion. Together, they plan to build a chapel, the Church of Many Worlds. Regis, who is glad that Rinaldo has found something to do with his time, backs the construction.
Meanwhile, debate continues over Darkover joining the Terran Federation. Some of the Comyn lords see only the benefits such a close alliance with the Federation can bring them, while others want nothing to do with the Terranen, wishing they would just roll up their spaceport and never return to Darkover again. Regis has been trying to chart a course between the two sides, but no one is particularly happy with the situation, and one man, Valdir Ridenow, will do almost anything to get Darkover to be a world of the Federation, instead of enjoying protected world status.
To that end, he has Rinaldo captured, and Danilo as well, and tells Regis that unless he abdicates his position as Lord of Hastur and head of the Crystal Council, he will have not only Danilo, but Regis's heir, Mikhail killed.
Regis does hope for the best, becoming an advisor to his brother, as much as he can. But Rinaldo is sickened by the relationship between Regis and Danilo and refuses to release Danilo unless Regis gets married. Regis, who tried and failed to marry Linnea Storn earlkier, and spent the night with her, engendering another child, this one a son, with her, agrees to marry her, and she, realizing that he loves her just as much as Danilo, agrees to marry him.
Danilo is released on the day of their wedding, though Regis is not allowed to talk to him in any way. Since Rinaldo believes that putting Regis and Danilo back together will encourage them to take up their relationship once more, tells Regis to release Danilo from his service as his Paxman, and Rinaldo tells Danilo that Danilo will be his own Paxman. Danilo swears to serve him, but not only him, which Rinaldo doesn't catch because he isn't familliar with the ceremony.
Regis does what he can to moderate his brother's policies, but once he is in power, he becomes infected with a religious mania. Tiphani Lawson leaves her husband to become Rinaldo's muse, and soon Rinaldo is trying to push the Cristoforo religion on the whole of Darkover, aided by his wife, a scion of Ridenow with some serious mental problems. But when her pregnancy turns out to be nothing more than a false one, because Rinaldo is an emmasca who cannot bear children, Rinaldo accuses the Comyn of stealing his child by their witchcraft, and Regis, no longer thinking his brother innocent or inept, must seriously consider taking back the reins of power, while rescuing the children that Rinaldo had taken from their parents, including Felix Lawton, to be raised in the Cristoforo manner. But can Regis save his brother while reining in his religious mania, or have things gone too far to be stopped?
I wanted to like this book, I really did, but in the end, the book's great promise went exactly nowhere. I have to question calling this book a book by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah Ross when Marion died over 10 years ago. She may have been responsible in a small part for this book, but I am willing to bet it was a very, very small part. How little of the book can a writer be responsible for and still be considered a co-writer?
To start off with, this book gets a very slow start before the story really picks up, and there is an un-Marion like focussing on the bedroom antics of Regis and Danilo. Before, readers who really didn't care to think that two male characters were in bed making love to each other could imagine that Regis and Dani's love was on a higher plane- brotherly love, say. But not here any longer. No, we get to see exactly what they do with each other, but not in any extended erotic scenes. On the other hand, Regis is as obsessed with his relationship with Dani as a fifteen year old girl is. Despite the fact that we get told it's not unusual for young men to have these sorts of relationships before they can be expected to marry either legally or morally, Regis is unusual in that he is still with Dani, who is also his closest friend and Paxman (Sort of like an oath-sworn bodyguard, but with more powers). Even as Regis is being told to marry by his Grandfather, he admits to himself that he could never marry a woman who wouldn't mind being second in his heart to Danilo, and he prefers to stay with Dani rather than marry anyhow.
And then there is the question of why Regis discounts the opinions of Dani, who means so much to him and whose opinion he supposedly trusts so much when Dani isn't comfortable with the way Rinaldo acts or the words he speaks. And yet, several times, Regis simply dismisses the concerns Dani raises about Rinaldo as if they are of no particular import. I had the feeling he dismissed them from story reasons rather than character reasons, you know, so at the end of the book, he could say, "Why did I dismiss Dani's concerns, I should have listened to him, oh Gods, I am so sorry!" (which, even if it wasn't in those words, did still come at the end).
I was also rather disappointed with the depiction of the Cristoforo religion. For one thing, it seemed to bear a much stronger resemblance to a specific kind of fundamentalist Christianity, which left a rather bad taste in my mouth, especially in its distaste for homosexual men. And then there was its adherents willingness to kidnap and imprison children in order to indoctrinate children without the knowledge or consent of their parents who may feel and believe differently. Not necessarily something fundamentalist Christianity subscribes to yet, but I've known some who expressed a wish that they could do so.
In short, this novel was a disappointment on several levels to me, and in the end, didn't feel like a real Darkover novel at all. As it moves further and further away from the words and worlds that Marion Zimmer Bradley created and invested with such love, I have to wonder how long I can continue to read these books that masquerade as the Master's own when in reality she maybe was responsible for 1/2 of 1 percent of the writing. I wish that the publishing companies would let Deborah J. Ross write her own books and let the door close on Darkover. I really wish it would. Not recommended.