Second in McIntosh’s fantasy trilogy from Down Under, hard on the heels of Myrren’s Gift (p. 90).
Gripped by a powerful enchantment known as the Quickening, warrior Wyl Thirsk now occupies his third, female, body, that of Faryl the assassin. Passed to Wyl by the witch Myrren, whose horrid death Wyl was obliged by the merciless, calculating King Celimus of Morgravia to witness, the magic forces Wyl’s mind to occupy the body of the person who kills him. First, mercenary Romen Koreldy killed Wyl in his true body. As Romen, Wyl became the beloved of Queen Valentyna of Briavel. But then Romen was murdered by Faryl, so now Wyl occupies her body and has three sets of skills and memories to draw upon. The insanely ambitious Celimus intends to win Briavel, by marrying Valentyna if he can—or by conquest if he can’t. Poor Valentyna, perfectly aware of Celimus’s ruthlessness and brutality but unwilling to subject her people to a war they cannot win, ponders her limited options. Wyl, meanwhile, tries to discover the fate of his sister, Ylena, finding that the monastery where she took shelter has been burned, its monks tortured and murdered at Celimus’s orders. Wyl must also confront the magical being whose contrivance Myrren’s gift is. Various other subplots keep the pot bubbling merrily.
The drawback here is that Wyl’s persistent failings—inability to learn from his mistakes, take elementary safety precautions or pay attention to his surroundings—drive the plot. Still, McIntosh’s narrative, with its distressed damsels, contending sorcerers, blackhearted villains and double-dealing courtiers, remains compulsively readable.