Rejected by their own kind for bearing the mark of the Shadow Monarch, the Iron Elves chose instead to serve with the human armies of the Calahrian Empire, hoping through their dedication and discipline to wipe out the stain of their birth. Their reputation is legendary -- until their commander, Konowa Swiftdragon, takes it upon himself -- for the best of reasons -- to assassinate the Viceroy. Court-martialled and exiled to the forest he despises, his beloved regiment disgraced, dishonoured and disbanded, Konowa finds himself suddenly recalled and ordered to re-form the Iron Elves for one last reconnaissance mission. But the new Iron Elves are not at all the same as they were before, and the mission is a suicidal one, with more at stake than Konowa could possibly have imagined. For the Shadow Monarch and her allies have harnessed destructive forces with the power to tear worlds apart -- and those who bear her mark have a destiny greater than they know.
So begins an heroic journey in the company of a motley band of misfits, rebels and outcasts, with a central character whose engaging, brilliantly realised blend of cynicism, dry humour, duty and anguish make him unlike any other in fantasy fiction.
This uncomplicated series debut introduces Konowa Swift Dragon, professional soldier turned full-time cynic. Exiled for killing the brutal viceroy of Elfkyna, an appointee of the Calahrian Empire who secretly served the evil witch known as the Shadow Monarch, Konowa has spent a year wandering around feeling sorry for himself. When the Shadow Monarch threatens the empire, Konowa reluctantly answers the call back to service, furious to find his former elite regiment filled with ordinary men and commanded by the incompetent heir to the throne. With anti-empire elfkynan witch Visyna Tekoy and cigar-chomping journalist Rallie Synjyn as his unlikely allies, Konowa must retrieve the prophesied Red Star and put down a rebellion. Evans hews closely to the high fantasy template, and slyly humorous details an elf who hates forests, a dark lord who saves babies and saplings never quite redeem the boilerplate story and its grouchy hero.