Having married Bao after rescuing him, Moirin and Bao return to Terre D'Ange, but when they finally arrive, Moirin is startled to be recognized. People have not forgotten her, remembering her as Jehanne's witch. Sentiment seems alternately with and against her, and as soon as she can, Moirin goes to see King Daniel and his daughter, Desiree.
She finds the King very much sorrowing, and Desiree suffering from the King's lack of attention. Because of his great grief over the death of his wife, the King has withdrawn into sorrow, leaving the running of the country in the hands of the Duc de Barthelme, the companion of his youth, and looking to Moirin's father Phanuel for spiritual comfort, as he is another companion of Daniel De la Courcel's young manhood.
Where does this leave his daughter? Mostly ignored, and being very much like her mother, she is alternately demanding of attention from her nurses and attendants, and sad because she believes her father does not love her. Moirin, who loved Jehanne, remonstrates with the King for his treatment of his daughter, and he agrees that he has sorely neglected Desiree, but because she is almost the spitting image of his dead wife, which pains him greatly. Realizing that Moirin, despite just meeting Desiree, loves her deeply, he decides to appoint her Desiree's oath-sworn protector, in which capacity, her role would be to look after Desiree's interests and happiness above all else. Moirin knows this is a huge responsibility, but in the end, she agrees to undertake this role out of her love for Desiree.
Daniel also lets her know that Prince Thierry is away, far across the sea in Terra Nova, hoping to set up a trading contrsct with the peoples who live there, who have access to many spices, plants and other goods that are available nowhere else. Daniel is expecting him to return soon, and tells Moirin that he plans to relinquish the crown in favor of Thierry when he returns, having no interest in ruling any longer.
But although Moirin and Bao do their best for Desiree, getting her a new nurse who can calm her fears and working with her so flex her intelligent, curious mind, but she also notices that the Duc de Barthelme seems to be very interested in bringing together the four year old Dauphine and his eldest son, Tristan, who is ten years older. She suspects that Rogier de Barthelme would betrothe his son to Desiree, which Moirin feels would be a mistake.
Bao says that if she suspects something about the boy, she should follow him, so she does, following him about the city, then to his home, where she witnesses him making untoward advances to a maid at his house, a maid who is happily and newly married, but whom he would force to service him anyway, which is against D'Angelline law. Moirin, still under the invisible aura of her magic, manages to dissuade him from continuing, but she decides that Tristan must be kept away from Desiree at all costs.
She takes her concerns to the King, who agrees to make De Bartheleme step down as Regent. But before he can do so, the ship from Terra Nova returns, and it has dire news. Dauphin Thierry is missing, presumed to be dead. King Daniel takes the news hard and withdraws into solitude. The next day, he is found floating in the river, having taken his own life. The city goes into mourning, but Moirin is appalled that the King never got to take away the Regency from de Barthelme.
His plans go forward, so Moirin feels that the only thing she can do, and feeling the call of her destiny from her diadh-anam, says she will go to Terra Nova and bring Prince Thierry home, since it is not clear he is dead, and Jehanne's spirit has confirmed he is alive. But de Barthelme will not support the expedition. He is happy that the Prince is dead, since it allows him to rule, and, to betrothe his son to Desiree, who has fallen in love with the older boy.
But in the end, the Shahrizai family, and Balthasar Shahrizai, Prince Thierry's childhood companion, who underwrites the expedition, and Moirin gets permission from de Barthelme to go on the expedition by Blackmailing him with the knowledge that people will talk if he doesn't give permission after telling everyone she had a vision saying Thierry is alive. So, finally Moirin, Bao and the others set off for Terra Nova, along with a former member of the Circle of Salomon, and she knows from Jeanne that she will have to face her past with Rafael de Merellot along the way.
But someone doesn't want Moirin to succeed at her task. But is it de Barthelme or one of his family? And nothing that Moirin has done in the past can prepare her for the splendor or horror of Terra Nova, of altars piled high with skulls and altars piled high with flowers. But can the people of Terra Nova, who have never seen a European woman before, be expected to treat her with the sort of deference that the men she is used to are? And what will happen if she allows herself to sleep with the ruler of the Nahuatl people? Will she really have damaged the relationship with the Europeans, or just those of Aragonia?
And then there is the problem of Raphael de Mereliot, the man who caused Moirin to misuse her powers for the love of him. He's out there in the jungle somewhere, with the Prince's party, and by all accounts, he is no longer sane. The natives around him fear "The Dark River". But what is it, and can Moirin rescue the Prince and the rest of his party while keeping her own alive, and then returning to Terre D'Ange to put Thierry on the throne and bring de Barthelme to justice? And will Moirin and Bao ever be able to settle down and have the fat babies both of them want?
Well, I had been looking forward to this book for a long time. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes, and no. I have given up trying to see Moirin and Bao as some wonderful, romantic couple- they don't really come up to the standard of Phédre and Joscelin or Imriel and Sidonie. Their love seems more pedestrian rather than epic, and despite the fact that they made love quite a bit, it was just...lovemaking, not something that confirmed or showed their love. It was like it was somehow removed, and thus it wasn't as interesting.
It also seemed to me that many of Moirin's travels somehow mirrored those of Phédre- not in where she traveled, but in what happened to her. Moirin is going after someone who betrayed her when she was young, like Melisande Shahrizai. But in the end, Morin comes off as a second best to the original. The other problem I had was with Raphael. In the end, he came across as just evil with no redemption. So far, Carey has made pretty much all of her villains human, but here she abandoned that to make Raphael evil with no redeeming features, and in the end, the action doesn't come down to what Moirin does, but what Bao has to do to win, and that made the ending less interesting for me.
Carey also tried to make the story revolve around a sacrifice, but I felt that the run up to that part of the storyline was too short. She tried her best to make us feel something for the person who had to be sacrificed, but there just wasn't enough contact between Moirin and the sacrifice for me to come to care that much, rendering the whole "sacrifice" sad, but ultimately meaningless and not shocking or stunning in the way she probably meant it to be. Then, there is the whole thing of characters we are expected to care for because they are the offspring of characters we were introduced to in earlier books, which, to my mind, is shoddy writing. Give us a reason to care about this character now.
That being said, the adventure is still interesting, and I liked how the situation with Desireé was set up. I found the book worth reading, but I hope her next book manages to fix the problems she had with this one. I liked the whole idea of Moirin and her story, it's just that it didn't measure up to stories in the past, and that was a problem for me. I love Jacqueline Carey so much. She is really a good writer, but this volume and this series felt forced and not right. I will continue to read her, but I can't recommend this series as much as I could her others. Not recommended.