The Tide Lords are immortals that came into being long ago, tied to the tides of magic that ebb and flow across the world. When the Tides crest, they rule like Gods over the land, but when the tides ebb, they are little better than humans with insanely long lives.
So when a man is hanged and refuses to die, he claims to be a Tide Lord. Specifically, a man named Cayal, also known as the Immortal Prince. Luckily, or Unluckily for him, the local Duchess, a woman named Arkady Desean, is a scholar and an expert on the legends of the Tide Lords. She hopes that by questioning him, she can discover the source of his delusions and help him to recover.
But not everyone wants her to succeed. Chief among them is Declan Hawkes, the King's Chief Spymaster. Long ago, he and Arkady were children, friends growing up together in the slums. But when her father was arrested for treason, she sneaked into the palace to try and free him, encountering Count Stellan, the man who eventually became her husband. She married him soon after that night, and Declan has held a grudge about it ever since, for he was in love with Arkady and wished to marry her himself. When she married Stellan, he viewed it as a betrayal of their friendship, and even though they are still openly friendly, he bears a grudge towards her husband.
But Arkady didn't marry her husband for the reasons everyone thinks she did. Yes, he freed her father as part of their marriage contract, but she stays married to him for other reasons that would mean death for her husband if they were noised abroad, and she views her husband as enough of a friend to want to see and keep him safe from his enemies.
But as she speaks to the man who claims to be Cayal, he decides to tell her the story of his past and how he came to be a Tide Lord. For he was once as human as she is. And Arkady is alternately thrilled and confused by his story- thrilled at hearing it, but confused because she can't point to any inconsistencies in it as a reason not to believe him. The story hangs together perfectly, but her logical and unbelieving mind halt her from actually believing in a people as strong as Gods. Even when he claims that the Cainii, Dog-like humans who many families keep as servants, were actually created by the Tide Lords, she cannot say that he is obviously lying.
But she comes to sympathize with him, even as her own life threatens to unravel. As she tries to save him from the men meant to kill him, the other Tide Lords are awakening, made more powerful by the strengthening tide. Cayal kidnaps her as he flees the soldiers sent by another one of the Tide Lords to kill her and imprison him, and then Arkady can no longer prevent herself from believing, and her entire intellectual world comes crashing down upon her. With nowhere else to turn, and falling in love with Cayal, she must attach her fate to his if she stand any hope of surviving the swelling of the tide. But other forces simply won't let them be alone, and for Cayal's crimes against his fellow Tide Lords, they seek to bring him to heel and make him pay. But can Cayal and Arkady keep far enough ahead of them, and survive the coming tide?
Someone returned the third book in this series to the library, and I found it interesting enough to try and order this book, which is the first in the series,and I ended up liking it very much indeed. The Tide Lords may seem like Gods, but they are very much like the Greek Gods, with several deep character flaws that make them seem chaotic and often downright evil. But it's not that they are really evil, just that they don't care about anyone but themselves. And when you are as strong as a god and wield incredible magic powers, that's not really healthy for the ordinary humans around you.
Cayal is almost unique among the immortal Tide Lords in that, at the beginning of the novel, he really wants to die. In fact, the whole reason why he is hung at the beginning of the novel is that he hoped that with magic at a low ebb, he hoped it would be possible to kill himself. In the end, it isn't, but magic is already beginning to rise, so maybe it wasn't a really fair test. In part, its because he is tired of living for so long, and the rest of it is his fellow immortals. To become one of the Tide Lords, you have to be really sure that you wanted to live while your mortality burned away in a flame, and the sort of people capable of that sort of certainty aren't very comfortable to be around. Most of them have very severe personality disorders, which are only exacerbated by thinking of themselves as Gods.
And the ones who are "good" to other humans are only wrapped up in their own concerns. Like the woman who mines for precious metals, living in a shack in the middle of nowhere, in squalor, because all she is interested in is mining more metal. Those who do intervene in human affairs rarely have the best interests of those humans at heart, and even when they do, stuff happens, and its never good for those who hang around with the Tide Lords. Which leads to the question of what is going to happen to Arkady during the course of the novel? Will she end up being like the little girl Frankenstein accidentally kills in the movie, not knowing his own strength? Or will her death be a deliberate act on the part of the other Tide Lords?
I found this novel fascinating. All the characters, even the human ones, are flawed in some way. Arkady by her refusal to see and believe what is right before her eyes, and her martyr complex, sacrificing herself in a loveless marriage to save her father, and then remaining faithful to the man she was married to because she was grateful to him for freeing her father. The other characters are just as flawed and that makes them interesting to read about. I remain very interested in seeing where the story is going and what is going to happen. Highly recommended.