Eunuch prince reclaims his family’s usurped throne in this fantasy debut.
Rhys, now called Kattanan, is the last of the Rinvien line. His three brothers and his mother, the Queen of Lochalyn, were murdered by his uncle Thorgir, who seized the crown. Thorgir spared Rhys but ordered him castrated to avoid future succession disputes. Raised in a monastery dedicated to Goddess worship, Kattanan becomes a talented court singer, traded from realm to realm as human collateral. Separated at the court of an emir from his companion and mentor Jordan, Kattanan is brought to Bernholt, domain of corrupt King Gerrod, who has been struck down by a wizard-instigated illness. Kattanan becomes the beloved hairdresser and personal cantor of Gerrod’s daughter, Melisande. Her suitor, a wizard apprentice named Earl Orie, seeks to ingratiate himself at the Bernholt court, but Kattanan intuits that he has ulterior motives. When Melisande goes to Gamel’s Grove to marry Orie, Kattanan follows. There he befriends Fionvar, Orie’s older brother. Expelled by Orie, Kattanan is rescued by Jordan, who proceeds to Bernholt and enlists his nemesis, the Wizard of Nine Stars, to cure King Gerrod. But Gerrod, ensnared by Orie’s machinations, condemns his son Wolfram, who had been regent during his illness. Wolfram flees and goes to the aid of Kattanan, now recognized as the true heir by the Duchess Elyn, ruler of the Rinvien court in exile. Nasty squire Montgomery, an Orie cohort, tortures Jordan, taken prisoner by the usurpers. With wizardly help to deepen his voice, Kattanan rides to battle as King Rhys, deposing Thorgir. He is betrothed to Fionvar’s lover Brianna, who is pregnant and will help perpetuate the fiction of King Rhys’s manhood. Swashbuckling ill suits Kattanan, and Melisande, now pregnant by Orie, still misses her former singer. But what if his castration were just another wizard’s device?
Plodding pace and an unduly Byzantine plot, even by genre standards.