The first adult-oriented fantasy from the author of various juveniles (River Rats, 1992, etc.), set in an intriguing, not-so-different early 20th-century alternate world where magic works unobtrusively. Faris, the young Duchess of Galazon, is sent to Greenlaw College on the French coast by her uncle Brinker. She proves a less than brilliant student but nevertheless acquires a faithful bodyguard in Tyrian, a firm friend in Jane, and an enemy in Menary of Aravill, whose father, King Julian, claims Galazon. Also, inexplicably to Faris, the dean of the college explains that Faris is the warden of the north, one of the four magical guardians of the world, and that her particular task is to mend the magical rift that her mother mistakenly opened. Faris doubts that she has any magic -- until, after Menary has trapped Tyrian and turned him into a cat, she turns him back and sets Menary's hair aflame. Later, Brinker summons Faris home; accompanied by Jane, she agrees to become ambassador to Aravill, only to discover that Brinker intends to marry her off to Julian. The malevolent Menary shows up and attempts to destroy Faris by magic, only to be dispatched into the rift; Tyrian is killed defending Faris against the king; and there's an appropriate but not altogether satisfying windup. Strikingly set, pleasingly peopled, and cleverly plotted. Stevermer has made a successful transition to adult entertainment; which, as others have discovered, is by no means as easy as it looks.