Aralorn is a green witch, shapeshifter and mercenary working for the country of Siovale. Her companion and lover is Wolf, an ae'Magi who is actually the son of the former head of the ae'Magi, the Archmage Geoffrey. Together, she and Wolf, whose real name is Cain, return to Reth, her homeland, and the place where she grew up, Lambbshold, to attend the funeral of her father.
Aralorn left Lambshold under something of a cloud. Not for anything she did, but rather for who she was. The daughter of Lyon's first wife, a green witch and peasant woman, Aralorn learned from her uncle how to shift her shape. When her sister Irreleth married a former Darranian mage named Nevyn, Aralorn grew infatuated with him. But Nevyn hated magic- he barely had enough to be trained, but the training turned him off magic forever. And when he, infatuated with her infatuation, gave her a much too steamy kiss, she realized that what they were doing was wrong, and fled, in the form of a mouse. This equally shocked him, and his opinion of her dropped precipitously, making it uncomfortable for her in her own home. And so she ran away into the night, and into the profession of a mercenary.
Now, she returns to find that not much has changed. Her family still loves her, but Nevyn still sees her as something unclean and tainted by magic and her own gifts. But much to her shock, when she lays a hand on her father in an attempt to say goodbye to him, she discovers that he is actually still alive- but kept in a near-death state by magic. ae'Magi magic, she suspects, but it's too faint to tell for sure.
Stricken by the knowledge, she informs her family and seeks out her uncle, Halven, to see if he can see more surely than she can. The Green Mages want little to do with the ordinary people of Reth, but her Uncle was working with her father to secure a homeland for the Green Witches in the further parts of his land, which he deeded to them in exchange for some help on and with the farm. The Green Witches want nothing to do with Aralorn or her family, but Halven agrees to help, regardless of the fact that he could be kicked off the Ruling council of the Green Witches for refusing to follow their orders. They need him more than he needs them, you see.
But that isn't the only magic swirling around Aralorn's family. For the current Archmage of the ae'Magi, Kisrah, is an old friend of the Lyon and is there for his funeral as well. He believes that if anyone has done this, it is the son of the former ae'Magi Archmage, Cain. Geoffrey, you see, had cast a spell of Charisma on himself so potent that he could easily play with people's minds, and he made everyone love him unconditionally- even after his death. It makes them almost unwilling to believe the truth, that he sought out the darkest, blackest magic because he was driven to be the greatest and the best (and most powerful) ae'Magi ever.
In no small part, he succeeded, but as his power grew, so did his capacity for evil. And Aralorn believes that he was trying to bring back a dark power known as the Dreamer for some reason, a power which had fueled evil magic and forced the creation of the ae'Magi, who were supposed to stand against this power. Even more disturbing to Aralorn is the idea that Geoffrey ae'Magi might somehow have cheated death thanks to his own power as a dreamweaver, and that this business with her father's deathlike state might only have been a snare to draw in and somehow destroy the two people who led to Geoffrey's death: Aralorn and Wolf/Cain.
To remove the spell on Aralorn's father will take more than one mage, for more than one mage cast the spell. But the cost of doing so must be a life. A life for a life. And Wolf knows it will be his own life that will pay the Price. But Aralorn attempts to forestall him by having the priestess of death marry them, knowing that the price for that is a soul bond. If one spouse dies, the other will as well. She hopes this will remain unknown to Wolf, but restrain him from doing anything too outrageous. But if the price is a life, whose will it be, and how will the family change in the aftermath of such a sacrifice? And who cast the spell to begin with?
I read Masques a few months back and just loved the story of Aralorn and Wolf. Aralorn, despite being a Green Witch and Shapeshifter, is very unlike Patricia Briggs' other heroines, and this is actually a good thing. She's not the same as Anna from the "Alpha and Omega" series or like Mercy Thompson from the Mercy Thompson series. She's unalike and complete unto herself, which made a nice change from her other characters. Plenty of people live inside Patricia Briggs' head, and that makes her a very versatile writer.
She's not as close to the animals she can take the form of as Mercy and Anna are, and yet, like both of them, she gives her heart completely to the man she loves. At the same time, she keeps her head and her ability to plot and plan, but she's not so good at it that Cain generally can't run rings around her. He far outstrips her in the ability to read people who aren't friends or close companions of his, but he can be remarkably ignorant about love because he was raised without it. And yet, thanks to their working together for so long, he and Aralorn are like a well-oiled machine. They fit and work together remarkably well as partners, not just as lovers, and he's comfortable enough around her that he drops the (very literal) mask he wears and shows her his scars as he is able to do with very, very few others.
In part, he reminds me a bit of Chirichi from Fushigi Yugi, hiding his feelings behind a mask and hiding his real self, too, in part because of shame, and in part because he really is more comfortable in Wolf Shape than in human form.
Reading this book was wonderful. The mystery of what happened to Lord Lyon and what and who was behind the plot drove me through the story, and the ending of the book promised something more... another sequel perhaps? I definitely hope so. The Dreamer is out there, and it is waiting. Waiting for what? And can Wolf/Cain, with his combined ae'Magi and Green magic, be the only man who could end up defeating it? I don't know, but I wonder. Highly recommended.