First of a trilogy, fantasy with peculiar SF underpinnings. On storm-wracked planet Aquasilva—apparently, it's the size of Jupiter—the priestly Domain intimidates everybody with fire-magic and warrior Sacri, while pretending benevolence and devotion to the general welfare. At Lepidor, on one of the planet's large islands, a huge deposit of valuable iron has been discovered, so young Escount Cathan must travel overseas to the city Taneth to inform his father, Count Elnibal, attending a conference there, and to secure trading and shipping deals. After Cathan achieves his aims, someone attempts to abduct him; he wakes in the Archipelago, a hotbed of heresy and resistance to the Domain. Here, he learns that the history he was taught was mostly Domain lies: the fire-god Ranthas isn't the only god, nor is fire-magic the only magic. He finds that he has water-magic and shadow-magic powers of his own, and becomes acquainted with many fellow-heretics, including military genius Palatine and the enigmatic Ravenna. The recent Domain power struggle resulted in the elevation of a maniacal heretic-burner as leader, so heretics everywhere are threatened; the domain's also plotting to control Lepidor's iron, and searching for the vanished Pharaoh, the Archipelago's hereditary leader and focus for the resistance. Out of all this, Cathan somehow must preserve Lepidor and his friends while fending off the Domain.
Written when the author was 17 (he's now an Oxford undergraduate), an impressively fluent, highly charged debut where everything happens at breakneck speed.