Cluttered and overheated first fantasy of a pseudo-Gaelic world where magic, or magecraft, is practiced only in groups of three, adding enormous complexity to human relationships. Liath has just passed her initiation rite as an Illuminating mage when a fight breaks out in her father’s tavern. She’s to heal a man who got stabbed in the stomach, but summoning a wordsmith, who writes the healing spell, and a binder, who gathers the magic forces together, Liath feels her power slipping: someone or something has hijacked her talent. Can the Ennead, the high council of mages whose abilities keep the weather in check, help her? While going over a mountain pass, Liath and Mellas, a young Ennead messenger boy, are set upon by brigands, caught in an avalanche, and menaced by hideous carnivorous shadows—and that just gets them to the front door of the Holding, the Ennead’s monastery-like citadel. Once inside, Liath finds numerous intrigues among stewards and mages-in-training, discovers a mad mage woman who has yanked out her own eyes and teeth, and stumbles upon the Ennead itself, which informs her that a sadomasochistic Dark Mage, believed to be Torrin Wordsmith, is rounding up mages outside the Holding to challenge the Ennead’s power, and that if Liath turned him back to the light, she might recover her powers. Liath finds Torrin, falls in love with him, and figures out that he isn’t the Dark Mage. The two are separated; then Liath tries to fight the Ennead, only to be captured, tortured and permanently disfigured. Helped by the mute, tormented binding mage Heff, Liath finds Torrin again, learns from her grandfather why she lost her powers, and forms a triad with Heff and Torrin in an attempt to thwart the Ennead’s evil plan.
An inventive but far too frequently gruesome quest for self-discovery, replete with grotesque violence and torpid sex scenes.