For time out of mind, the desert kingdom Maurhet has dominated its rain-drenched neighbor, Tel-mari, justifying its brutal aggression on religious grounds; the traditional Tel-mari response has been terrorism. Now, young Maurheti army commander SekmÃ‡, sickened by the massacre of Tel-mari civilians she helped plan. goes home on leave to see her beloved brother Set, a blind poet who "sees" more clearly than most. SekmÃ‡'s stepfather Atto, though, is conspiring with King Roon to destroy her. Why? Well, the popular and respected SekmÃ‡'s too effective a soldier, threatening to crush Tel-mari resistanceâ€”while Roon wants perpetual stalemate. She survives an Atto-inspired assassination attempt only to be ordered undercover to winkle out Merkus, the chief Tel-mari freedom fighter who dreams of a world without violence. Out in the desert, meantime, the seer Wepanu is sent by the jo, mysterious intangible entities perceptible to few humans, to urge Roon to mend his ways. SekmÃ‡, living among the Tel-mari, realizes that they're neither godless nor evil. Eventually she discovers Merkus's whereabouts but is captured by him and thrown bound into a swamp. Miraculously, she survives and returns to her unit. Her growing cynicism about the war, however, proves infectious: her cousin Bah, also treated badly by Atto, takes a plane and bombs Maurhet's vital water desalination plants, throwing the country into chaos. SekmÃ‡ leads an air strike to destroy Merkus's base before vanishing into the mountains. Here, the jo force her to relive the memories of friends, relatives, and war victims. Thoroughly chastened, she joins Merkus to explore the ruins of an ancient city, where the two find clues to the remote past. From the author of the paperback The Merro Tree (1997): a rich, incident-packed, perceptive, stunning antiwar yarn that takes no prisoners; all that's needed is a touch more control.