Second in the series begun with To the King a Daughter (2000). In the city of Rendelsham, Dowager Queen Ysa has somewhat reconciled herself to the presence of Ashen, the illegitimate daughter of her late husband, King Boroth. Raised in the dreaded Bale-Bog by Zazar, one of the Fates, Ashen has magic powers but has been instructed to learn, not practice. Ysa faces many problems, chief among them the great evil stirring in the north; eventually it will invade Rendel, so she needs all the help she can get. Second is the difficulty of controlling spoiled-brat King Florian; his attempt to abduct Ashen is foiled by Obern, a Sea-Rover with whom Ysa has forged an alliance. Now Ashen’s husband Obern challenges Florian to a duel, in which both combatants perish. Ysa becomes regent for Florian’s infant son, and orders Ashen to marry Gaurin of the powerful Nordors—thus making another alliance—but, thankfully, the pair falls instantly in love. As yet more plots swirl, Ysa grows blind to everything but the need to defend the realm, thus becoming beguiled by a sorcerer who seems intent on stirring up trouble. Obern’s son Rohan comes to join his adoptive mother. Here, the tree-symbolism, rather more prominent in volume one, recedes into the background.
A solid, if unexciting, independently intelligible addition to the series: should please fans and newcomers alike.