Into Isse Tower stumbles a youth with no memory, unable to speak, wearing a face horribly disfigured from exposure to poisonous plants. Becoming a lowly, abused drudge, the youth learns about windships (they sail through the air, thanks to "sildron," the antigravity metal), the "unstorms" of eerie magic blown in on the shang winds, the flying horses called Eotaurs, and the servants' incessant tales of wights both seelie and unseelie. Unfortunately, the youth comes to the attention of Mortier, Master at Swords, who requires a servant. The youth, aware of Mortier's terror of the unstorms and consequent involvement with horrid magic, and previously flogged by him for an imaginary infraction, stows away on a windship despite knowing a stowaway's usual, grim, fate. Unearthed, the youth must toil as a deckhand—until pirates attack the ship. To avoid capture, the youth jumps into the sky, only to be saved by Sianadh, not a pirate but a treasure-seeker with a map and a sildron belt. Sianadh names the youth Imrhien and instructs the mute in sign language. Together, they survive cruel hardships and dreadful creatures to reach Waterstair. Believed by Sianadh to be a sildron mine, Waterstair turns out to be far more wonderful. Buoyed by their discovery, the two travel to Sianadh's home, whence Imrhien, resolving to recover face, speech, and memory, sets off for a whole new set of adventures.
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