When the irresistible armies of the Emperor Balthasar threaten to invade the peaceful, Goddess-worshipping port of Merina, its rulersDowager Queen Adele, Queen Lydana, and princess Shelyradecide to avoid bloodshed and simply submit. But the emperor is dominated by an evil sorcerer, Apolon, so rather than be imprisoned or worse, the three arrange to disappear. Old Adele fakes her own death to become Alfrida, Flame of the Temple; Lydana disguises herself as bead-seller Matild; the impatient Shelyra takes refuge among the Gypsies as Raymonda. Meanwhile, Apolon searches desperately for them. Worse, his cruel and arrogant Black Coats take over the city. Rumors spread that Apolon is a necromancer. But what does he really wantthe power of the Temple's Heart, a sacred jewel-encrusted meteorite? Or the latent magic contained within the body of Shelyra? Balthasar's son, Leopold, spied on by Shelyra, turns out to be both honorable and deeply suspicious of Apolon. So, as the royal fugitives stir up such resistance as they are able, Shelyra and Leopold fall in lovea bond that will prove crucial in the final magical showdown with Apolon. More parsimonious editing and greater attention to detail in the formative stages would've helped considerably with this workmanlike, predictable yarn and its remarkably obtuse bad guys: the authors, notwithstanding their individual accomplishments, strike no sparks together.