A tale of two princesses and a fair amount of magic.
Ailsbet is a princess of Rurik, and Marlissa—Issa—is a princess of Weirland, two island kingdoms not quite at war with each other. Issa is strong in neweyr, women’s magic of the Earth and growing things; Ailsbet, who thought herself unweyr, without magic, turns out to be strong in taweyr, men’s magic of blood, death and war. Taweyr in a woman makes her ekhono—tainted—and thus considered worthy of burning by Ailsbet’s father, King Haikor, who rules capriciously and with the power of his own taweyr. However, he betroths her to Lord Umber of Weirland, and Ailsbet’s younger brother to Issa, as the king hopes to combine both kingdoms under his own iron rule. For most of the book, the two princesses circle around each other; after 400 pages, there is a stopping point but no resolution. There’s a certain amount of murderous violence and a small amount of kissing, both oddly passionless. What passion there is comes in Ailsbet’s love for her flute and the making of music, which is delineated beautifully and boldly, as is the overwhelming response Ailsbet has to her taweyr in a hunt in which she takes down a stag. Talk about duty and honor, about laying aside one’s feelings for the good of the kingdom and about not knowing one’s self or one’s companions dominates, though.
It ends with one princess in exile and the other separated from her true love; whether there’s a sequel to wrap up the dangling plotlines is unclear. Also unclear is whether readers will want it. (Fantasy. 11-15)