Hardcover debut, and first after a long silence, from the author of such paperback fantasies as Dancing Jack (1993), etc. Brutal Sainnite warriors have invaded peaceful Shaftal, whose G'deon (ruler), the earth witch Harald, died without conferring his powers upon a successor; thus Harald's political rival, Mabin, must rally Shaftal's Paladins to fight a guerrilla war. Next, the Sainnites slaughter the northern Ashawala'i tribe, leaving diplomat and seer Zanja as the sole survivor. Captured and tortured, her back broken, Zanja languishes in a dungeon. The giant earth witch and smith, Karis, addicted to the will-sapping and sensation-destroying “smoke,” for some reason rouses herself to rescue and heal Zanja. After swearing to protect and help Karis, Zanja joins former scholar and seer Emil Paladin's South Hill irregulars. Norina Truthken, an air elemental who serves Mabin, has also sworn to protect Karis and thus becomes Zanja's rival. After initial success against the invaders, Emil's company suffers a string of devastating losses—another seer, Medric, guides the Sainnites. So can the combatants get together and find a solution that spares everybody, invaders and defenders alike, from slaughter or starvation? The outcome depends on whether Zanja can learn the truth of what happened the night Harald died.
Intended for a particular audience—nearly all the main characters are female, or homosexual, or both—and even though Marks is more concerned with the destiny of individuals than the fate of nations, the flimsy backdrop and far-fetched plotting doom this one to mediocrity.