The Canadian publisher/writer/poet's science fictional debut is a multistranded feminist identity-puzzler. On a strange colony world where technology boasts sailing ships, airships, advanced medicine, and forklifts, Dorsey weaves a design whose relationships gradually coalesce in the reader's mind. In the barbarous, slave- owning Land of the Dark Isles, the ``waif'' has lost her memory after a severe head injury; her companion is a mad old woman kept in a cage, who sometimes knows what the waif is thinking and keeps a diary written in her own blood. Much later, at the evil regent's palace, the waif will regain her past. Betrothed at birth to the regent, Essa grows up in a palace dominated by her depraved grandmother, the regent's lover; but rather than marry the regent, Essa flees into the Remarkable Mountains and joins a utopian community there. Trader Essa lives with a man who calls himself-- and everything else--Minh; she travels by airship in a trading mission and, following a dispute among the crew, is pitched overboard--the same fate awaiting Essa after she leaves the Remarkable Mountains to confront her destiny and the regent's spies. A tantalizing, distinctive, sexy, and beautifully rendered first novel.