First of a fantasy trilogy from grandmaster Norton (Wind in the Stone, 1999, etc.) and Miller (Ladylord, 1996). In Rendel, Queen Alditha, last of the royal Ash line, flees from pursuing Yew troops into the Bale-Bog, where she dies in childbirth. Her daughter, Ashen, is fostered by one of the Fates, Zazar, who notes the girl’s magical proclivities. Satisfied that Alditha is dead, ambitious Yew Queen Ysa focuses on her Oak husband, King Boroth, who lies dying in a protracted, drunken fashion. His heir is spoiled-brat Prince Florian, of whom even his mother Ysa despairs of his fitness to rule. In the north, meanwhile, as an ancient evil stirs, eruptions, quakes, and climatic upheavals force the Sea-Rovers and their captain, Snolli, to scout for territories farther south; they settle in abandoned Ash lands, much to the annoyance of Ysa. So low does Boroth sink that his royal rings, Yew, Oak, Rowan, and Ash, abandon his fingers and migrate to Ysa’s hands; overjoyed, she finds that she’s at last able to work powerful magic. In the Bog, Zazar departs, leaving a teenaged Ashen to find her own way; wary of mysterious and influential invaders, Ashen comes upon Obern, Snolli’s son, injured during a reconnaissance mission. They head for Rendelsham and Queen Ysa, just as Boroth breathes his last.
Solidly plotted, traditional sword and sorcery: should please Norton’s many fans.