On their way to the first Circle temple in Gyongxi mages Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy pay a visit to the emperor's summer palace. Although treated like royalty when they first arrive, the mages soon discover that the emperor plans to invade Gyongxi, posing a fatal threat to the home temple of the Living Circle religion. Accompanied by one of the emperor's prize captives, the three mages rush to Gyongxi to warn its citizens of the impending attack. With the imperials hot on their trail, Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy must quickly help the country prepare for battle. But even with the help of new allies, will their combined forces be enough to fight the imperial army and win the war?
In this exciting standalone novel that follows the events of Street Magic (2001), the plant mage Rosethorn and her students Briar and Evvy travel to Gyongxe, a Tibetlike mountain kingdom rife with gods and magic. They are then summoned to the larger neighboring Yanjing empire where the Emperor wants Rosethorn to visit his glorious flower gardens. The three mages soon realize that the Emperor is a monster who will torture or kill anyone who crosses him and who, having conquered the lands to the north, has decided to take Gyongxe. Rosethorn and her students flee Yanjing and join the smaller kingdom's fight for survival. Pierce continues to use magic creatively ("He glanced at the wall paintings. The people and the creatures in them leaned forward.... the nagas, the winged lions, the giant spiders... were wriggling, as if they meant to peel themselves free") and her protagonists, although not without thorns, are easy to love. The author's many fans, the first generation of which have now grown to adulthood, should help make this tale as successful as earlier books set in the Circle universe. Ages 12 up.