MacAvoy has done everything from modern urban fantasy (Tea with the Black Dragon) to science fiction (The Third Eagle); here, she spins a coming-of-age fantasy in a late-medieval alternate world. The hero is Nazhuret, whose strange name, short stature, and unknown parentage set him apart from the other students in the military school where his story begins. Reluctant to choose a master from among the nobles who come to the school on recruiting missions, Nazhuret decides instead to take instruction from an eccentric man named Powl, whom he meets in an astronomical observatory. Powl instructs him not only in lens-making but in swordsmanship, philosophy, and languages--before kicking him out in midwinter to find his own way in life. The plot from there on leads him to a werewolf, a King, a most unusual dragon, and his discovery of his true parentage--and of a purpose he can dedicate himself to. Possibly MacAvoy's best work since the ""Damiano"" trilogy; a sequel is projected.