First of a new series set in Brust's fantasy world of the Dragaeran Empire (Issola, 2001, etc.). Two centuries after the action of Five Hundred Years After (1994), in which a magical disaster reduced the capital city Dragaera to a sea of chaos, various ambitious warlords contend over the fragments of the collapsed Phoenix Empire. The most powerful, Skinter, the Dragonlord Duke of Kâna, dreams of establishing a new empire. Skinter, however, is a Dragon, and the current cycle, that of the Phoenix, remains unbroken while a Phoenix heir survives. The Gods will not allow the cycle to be broken, so they must help Zerika, the heir, become Empress—and also because the fear the intervention of mysterious entities known as the Jenoine. To claim her title, Zerika must brave the Paths of the Dead, win over the by-no-means unanimous Gods, and claim the magical Orb that is the foundation of all-powerful wizardry. To complete such a quest, Zerika naturally will need helpers, these organized by Sethra Lavode, the Enchantress of Dzur Mountain: Piro, the warrior-noble of the subtitle, Tazendra the Dzurlord wizard, Kytraan the warrior, and sundry lackeys. To reach the Paths of the Dead, they must contend with the evil sorceress Orlaan and her band of robbers. Numerous other subplots spice the mixture, though none of them directly affect the action of this inaugural volume.
Charmingly circumstantial or annoyingly discursive—frequently both at once—but ingenious, refreshingly unfettered by convention, and cast in an agreeably wry mode.