When Kieri Phelan was made King of Lyonya, he knew that it would bring changes, not only to Lyonya, but to the world. And those changes have not stopped occurring. With the Paladin Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter on a mission for the Gods, it is up to Kieri, his former Lieutenant Dorrin Verrakai and his former second in command, Jandelir Arcolin, now taken over Kieri Phelan's former position as Lord of the Marches and leader of Phelan's mercenary company, now called Fox Company to weather those changes and come out of it alive.
As well, Arvid Semminson, former enforcer of the Thieves Guild of Verella and Dattur, his gnome companion, are on the trail of a necklace for the Marshall of Gird, part of the Regalia discovered by Dorrin Verrakai in her family's estate and stolen from the storehouses of the King of Tsaia, at whose instigation it is not known. But it is Arvid's second in command of the Thieves Guild who has usurped his place as Guildmaster and who now rules in his place. Three of his thieves have waylaid and captured Arvid and Dattur, leaving his bound outside in the snow, hopefully to die, while they eat, dice, and wait under the comfort of a roof and with a fire for further word. Hearing a voice in his head, Arvid finds the means to free himself and Dattur and the two of them kill the thieves and get back their possessions, using Dattur's powers over stone to collapse the floor of the hut and dispose of the thieves. However, Arvid has lost his note of introduction and safe conduct from the Marshall of Gird and needs to get it back from his traitorous former second in command, and he would like a little vengeance for what has happened to himself and Dattur as well, so he poses as a minor northern merchant, trapped in the South by the winter closing the mountain passes, and lays in wait to assess the situation and make his move.
Meanwhile, Arcolin is suffering a lack of good leaders for his mercenary company, and while he has been moving people up from the ranks as fast as he can, most of them are either not suited for command or are rank amateurs. And one of his best, Sergeant Stammel, was blinded by a blood mage attempting to take over his body. But when he hires a former cavalry Captain named Hartnik from the Clarts company, he discovers that the man is a drunk and a liar, as well as lazy. It comes to a head when the man refuses to take the troops out on a training run because it is snowing, and gets drunk instead. He is responsible for several other problems as well, and Arcolin must call on help from Hartnik's former commander to pry him lose from his position and fire him. And then they discover, through Arvid Semminson, that Hartnik's information was purchased from him the night after he was banished from the company. Hartnik turns up dead, but now Fox company knows that someone means them ill- the only question is who? And what may this person have to do with the missing necklace Arvid is looking for?
Arcolin is also dealing with a Pargunese invasion of Tsaia, and Kieri Phelan must deal with the Pargunese invasion of Lyonya. But the Pargunese invading Lyonya are being sent there by servants of Archyra, the Web-Spinner, who have also unleashed strange fire-creatures on the lands of Lyonya and Tsaia that they call Scathefire. But these are actually immature Dragons, and their sire has allied with King Kieri to deal with them. The Gnomes that were supposed to watch over the Dragon eggs are repudiated by the Dragon, their Prince being the one who told the Achryans where to find the Dragon Eggs, and Arcolin accepts the remaining Gnomes as servants on his lands while Stammel is asked by the Dragon to help him track down and kill his chaotic offspring, as Stammel can somehow see Dragons as they truly are, even in his blindness.
Meanwhile, Kieri Phelan rounds up the remaining Pargunese soldiers on his lands and concludes a treaty with Torfin, the King of Pargun, who was betrayed by his brother. The King's daughter, Elis, who has become his ambassador to Lyonya, is in training to be a Knight of Falk, and while she cannot be his successor any longer, she does as much as she can to help her father. Kieri is also pleased to have finally found a woman to love and marry, his former squire, the half-Elven Arian. As they agree on a date to announce their pledging, and to finally be married, they know that the Kingdom they both love is still at risk. The bones of the Kingdom's former rulers warn them of danger to come, but for now they have and have found each other, and so are happy. Kieri is worried by the knowledge that the Elves, for some reason, seem to be hiding something, not only from him, but also from the other humans and half-elves of Lyonya. For instance, they no longer seem to be about much, and though they are healing the scars that the Scathefire left behind, the human council of the Kingdom is finding it harder and harder to trust them. What are they hiding, and what is the Elven Lady of Ladysforest hiding from him, her grandson?
Dorrin, meanwhile, is doing her best to do what King Mikeli wants and root out the corruption and dark magery in her family. But when Tsaia goes to war with Pargun, tragedy befalls three of her squires. Daryan Serrostin is attacked and his thumbs cut off and his Achilles tendons cut by servants of Archyra and members of her family. Dorrin is able to rescue him from them before he can be killed, but her magery is unable to heal him and she calls on the Kuakgannir to help in Daryan's healing. The Kuakgan is able to mend his tendons and regrow one thunb by using his green magic, but apparently Kuakgan healing is considered to be anathema to the followers of Gird in Tsaia and they consider this a major failing on her part. Also. Beclan Mahieran, another of her squires, is drawn into a Kuakgannir trap meant for the servants of Archyra and former members of Dorrin's family, and while he is sorely tempted by them, it seems that Gird protects him and enables him to triumph over them and the several members of his squad that they have taken over.
But was it Gird's help, or was it something inside him? As Beclan is put into a secret hiding place that may not be so very secret, hidden truths about himself and his family are forced out into the light- and may end up putting Dorrin and Tsaia into greater danger than ever. As treachery and betrayal afflicts all three Kingdoms, will Kieri Phelan and his former mercenaries and new allies be able to win free and live without fear? Or will the cost to all of them be more than any are prepared or willing to pay?
I like this series, and I like Elizabeth Moon's books, everything from the Vatta family novels to the first series that made her famous, the Deed of Paksenarrion series, has been excellent and engaging. While a lot of the tropes of her series repeat somewhat, with young people growing up, seeing how selfish and short-sighted they were before, while other, older characters must deal with more overt enemies while keeping their eyes out for hidden enemies and reacting to sudden reverses in fortune, this series, being fantasy, also deals with magic and typically magical races like elves, gnomes and Dragons, as well as "rockfolk" aka Dwarves, although they are only mentioned in passing in this book.
The Gods continue to poke their noses into other people's business, from Beclan Mahieran to Arvid Semminson, who discovers that, much to his surprise, the God Gird is interested in the doings of a Guild Thief, even to the point of keeping an eye on him. But why? Was Arvid saving Paks from the Liartian Priests so strange that it attracted the attention of the Gods? We don't get too much of why Gird seems to be so interested in Arvid, but it's clear that he is. One thing that I wondered throughout the novel is: Where is Paks? She got called elsewhere in the last book, but it's clear that she's not there when her friends need her. I can only wonder if we are going to get another book or trilogy about where she is while these events are happening. I doubt she would decline to try and heal Stammel's blindness if she'd known what had happened to him.
So much happens during this book and there are so many characters that it's hard to condense down the story and make it readable. Obviously, this new series is going to be more than a trilogy, and hopefully, we'll find out what happened to Paks and what she's doing after this story is done- I still like her and want to read about her even 20+ years later. This book is wonderful. The battles are sufficiently martial and read like real military battles, and the characters are likeable enough that you want to root for them and see what will happen to them, and how they will overcome the challenges facing them. I really enjoyed this one, even though it is a very large book, it reads much faster than you think it will and the story never becomes bogged down in minutia. Highly recommended and a cracking good read.