Donaldson returns to the epic fantasy world he began in Seventh Decimate (2018) and to a king and queen who married to bring peace between their realms...but who find the reality difficult.
The story so far: Two decades ago, then-Prince Bifalt of Belleger shocked everyone by proposing peace to Belleger's ancient enemy, Amika. The Magisters—keepers of magical knowledge—had foreseen a threat so dire that only by standing together might either country survive. Amika's king agreed under duress and gave his daughter, Estie, to Bifalt in marriage. Since then, an uneasy peace has existed between Belleger and Amika—and between Bifalt, now king, and Queen Estie. Their joint rule has seen a slow return of prosperity to both kingdoms, yet the rulers struggle to push their nations toward cooperation and preparation for the foretold enemy. After 19 years, the fragile state of peace is threatened by many factors: raiders attacking Bellegerin farms, a missing friend, treachery, and the rise of a mysterious sect proclaiming that only faith in a "god"—whatever that is—can bring true peace. But the greatest rift may be between the king and queen themselves: Their marriage has never been consummated, and Bifalt's relentless and self-martyring dedication to his duty has erected a wall between him and Estie. As Estie contends with assassination attempts and world-changing revelations about her own family and history, she also struggles to break through Bifalt's isolation. But despite having nearly 600 pages to work it out, the two may be out of time: The enemy, and the war, is finally here.
Readers patient enough to slog through the slowly developing plot will find well-portrayed characters and rich worldbuilding, though our hero's bitterness and self-imposed misery begin to wear not even halfway through the tome.