First installment of a fantasy series from the author of The Compass of the Soul (1998). When the King of Ayr died more than a century previously, he named no heir, leaving the noble Wills and Renné families to feud over the vacant throne. Now, Toren Renné hopes to bring the bloody dispute to a conclusion by ceding territory to the Wills. For his naiveté and presumption, Toren’s own cousins plot to assassinate him. Elsewhere, three friends from the remote Vale, thoughtful Tam, irreverent Fynnol, and the giant Baore, arrange a trip to find and sell ancient artifacts and buy horses with the proceeds. One night, the mysterious, intriguing, and informative Alaan joins their camp. Moments later, they’re attacked by troops hunting Alaan, who vanishes as the friends escape. Later, Cynndl, a Fael storyfinder, joins the party, and they enjoy a weird journey downriver. Meanwhile, Hafydd, an evil Knight of the Vow thought 20 years dead, beguiles the Prince of Innes into preparing for a war of conquest; Hafydd plans to marry the Innes heir, Michael, to Lady Elise Wills, put their son on the throne, and control him. Michael and Alaan, however, help Elise escape. Eventually, all will meet at the midsummer Westbrook Fair.
Fascinatingly plotted, with life-sized characters, and developments hinted at rather than displayed full-blown. Still, readers must suffer a glacially slow first hundred pages followed by a nonexistent ending. Often splendid, but it’s just the first chunk of an interminable array: over to you.