Sarah of Doire is the daughter of the witchwoman Seleg. Born without any magic powers whatsoever, she has been content to sit, spin and weave while her mother cast her spells. But when her mother died, her brother, who had very little magic, came into contact with a spell that had been developed by Gair, one of the most evil mages who ever lived. Gair, to prove his power, uncapped a well of evil magic, intending to show his power and control by capping it again almost immediately. However, the magic overwhelmed him, and slew him, his wife and most of his children outright. His son Ruithneadh was, as far as he was aware, the only survivor of that day, and he immediately went into seclusion, unable to face using magic ever again.
But when Sarah's brother found that one spell, incomplete as it was, he immediately set about causing havoc with it, and Sarah knew it was up to her to get someone to deal with it. She went to the half-mad mage on the hill, whom she thought was an old man, but it turned out to be a young man named Ruith. She shamed him into following her and helping her, but his reluctance to do anything with magic, or to be kind or grateful to her has earned him nothing but her scorn. After an adventure where they collected mages whom her brother had stolen something from- trying for their magic, but ending up with something else every time, Ruith found himself collecting pages from his father's spellbook, which has apparently been scattered all over the land. But when his treatment caused Sarah to leave him, they were attacked, and Ruith wakes tied to a tree, the spells he so carefully collected gone, and him being haggled over by slavers.
But he's not just in this predicament. Someone has cast a protection spell around him, and then someone else has cut it open, leaving a section where the spell doesn't protect him. He's baffled as to who could have done either of those things, but his first task is to discover who sent the men to attack him and where Sarah is now.
That done, he tracks down Sarah and forces her to come with him to Beinn oran, and the school of magic there. He wishes to consult with his friend and Mentor Solléir, both about the pages of his father's spellbook, and who might have found it and scattered its pages about. Sarah has also been showing a distressing tendency to See things, and to Ruith's shock, he's found himself falling in love with Sarah, making her dislike and distrust of him extremely hurtful. While they are with Solléir, she finds herself trapped in the garden of the Master of Olc, a sort of magic that is extremely evil and hurtful. The master, Droch, uses his magic to draw her into his garden while hiding how truly terrible it is- it's a place that could consume her.
Ruith can't aid her without coming to Droch's attention, something that wouldn't be good for either Sarah or himself. So Solléir ramps up her ability to SEE so that she cannot be blinded to the evil and danger all around her, and that has consequences as well. For although Sarah uses that ability to escape, it's a power that cannot be turned off, and her dreams reveal to her where Gair's spells are, blazing like dark fires in the night across the entire continent. Her time with Ruith goes some way towards diminishing her ire at him, and she even begins to believe that he might have tender feelings for her.
But believing her far below him in station and power, she gives him a condition for going any way towards accepting his suit for her. For one, he has to meet and dance with at least ten princesses before she will even think about returning his regard. And he lays a condition on her as well: Knowing her extreme dislike of formal dinners, she will be able to refuse to attend three of them with him before they marry.
Teaming up to retrieve his father's spells, Ruith and Sarah find themselves in the hall of the Dwarven King, and as a parting gift, Solléir gives her some books in his native language so that Sarah can translate the runes on her knives, ones that can part a spell as easily as a thread, and gives Ruith a sword that had been forged by the Dwarven King to bring to him as a message. But as they travel together, Sarah begins to find out information about herself that may make a lie out of everything she ever believed she knew about herself, and when they travel to An-uallach to retrieve two of Gair's spells that lie within the castle of Queen Moragh, Sarah finds herself in mortal danger simply because of who she really is.
But can she believe the truth, and what cost will it demand from her self-image and soul when she finds out just who she really is? Will it allow her to accept Ruith's love and finally allow her to return it completely? Or will it be the final blow that makes her world crash down around her? And who is placing scraps of Gair's spells around for Ruith to find, and where is that person leading them, and why?
This book is the second in a three part trilogy about Ruith and Sarah. Just like the first trilogy set on this world following Mhorgainn and Miach, the two have finally both fallen for each other, and the female half has discovered something about herself that is shocking to her and which she finds hard to credit. But unlike Mhorgainn, who had to retreat to reorder her life and find peace, Sarah seems to be taking the knowledge much better. Some of this book is contemporary to the second and third books in the prior series, and Miach, at least. shows up to talk to Ruith.
An awful lot of talking goes on, but it's mixed with a good dose of action so that the book never drags or feels too wordy. Ruith is really in the doghouse with Sarah at the beginning of the book, and it takes a lot of explaining, and being much, much better to her to get her to forgive him. But eventually she does, and while she's not necessarily happy to be traveling with him (she's much more of a homebody), she is at least somewhat happy to be with him, even though she doesn't take his suit seriously at all.
Well, some of the book was a little hard to believe- that Ruith found Sarah, a real-life princess, just out in the middle of nowhere. But it wasn't played completely ridiculously, and I did end up enjoying the novel a lot, but while I am happy that Lynn Kurtland can inject such interest into a story that's largely cliché, I am also looking for something else to happen with the other brothers that the story is so avidly sequel-baiting at this point. As in, not have one participant in the romance be all unknowing of their heritage. Well, I can hope, anyway.
This isn't a bad novel, but it's the second in a trilogy, and if you want to enjoy it to its utmost and understand all the references to the first book and the first part of the story, you are really going to have to read that story first. Many of the details are just otherwise glossed over. So, recommended, but read "A Tapestry of Spells" first.