A hugely intricate and largely beguiling prequel to The Sorcerer's Treason (2002). Beginning in 1872 in a village on Lake Superior, Zettel introduces Ingrid Loftfield, the alienated older sister of Grace, whom she glimpses making a secret rendezvous with a man who seems, and is, more dead than alive. Only the stranger and recent arrival in the village, Avan, seems to have any idea of the power this dead man has on Ingrid’s sister. No mere wanderer, Avan is Avanasy, a sorcerer and teacher to Medeoan, Princess of Isvalta, a medieval Russian fantasy realm that meets our own on the waters of the lake. Avan has been banished to Earth as part of a plot to wed Medeoan, the last surviving sibling and heir to the realm, to Prince Kacha of Hastinapura, a fantasy kingdom reminiscent of Mogul India. Kacha is obviously the wrong guy for Medeoan: though dashing and youthful, he has a withered right hand and disfigured eye that scream evil sorcery. And the plot to start a war with the Chinese kingdom of Hung Tse—to force an alliance that will give Hastinapura power over Isvalta—is doomed. But, alas, Medeoan is a trusting girl with limited spell-casting abilities who doesn’t suspect that the death of her parents might have been induced by the wicked Hastinapura sorcerer, Yamuna. As before, an innocent girl, Ingrid, will have to sail to Isvalta (encountering diabolical denizens, including the ancient witch Baba Yaga and her nightmarish band) to tip the balance of power. She’ll learn that, in Isvalta, spells are weavings that can bind, protect, and entangle. And she’ll meet the father of her daughter Bridget, heroine of the initial installment, as well as of the forthcoming third and last.
Though it duplicates the spirit and intent of the first book, Zettel’s frothy blend of romance and fantasy benefits from more straightforward plotting and tighter command of characters and scenes. The second time’s the charm.