This stand-alone novel in the Valdemar series continues the story of prickly weapons-master Alberich. Once a heroic Captain in the army of Karse, a kingdom at war with Valdemar, Alberich becomes one of Valdemar's Heralds. Despite prejudice against him, he becomes the personal protector of young Queen Selenay. But can he protect her from the dangers of her own heart?
Making love and not war is the theme of Lackey's entertaining high fantasy, the second in a trilogy (after 2002's Exile's Honor) within her long-running Valdemar series not that love is any less of a battlefield. Alberich of Karse, the outsider Herald, must watch over the newly enthroned queen, Selenay, as he trains young Heralds by day and chases down treasonous plots in the alleys and shady locales of Haven by night. Along the way, his recruit in the arts of undercover work, Herald-Chronicler-Second Myste, provides him with her own ideas of work under covers. And his Companion, the intelligent, mind-linked equine Kantor, keeps Alberich honest with a sardonic sense of humor. The recently bereaved Selenay, too, faces her own challenge in the court of love, first from anxious councilors trying to arrange a royal marriage, then from the too-good-to-be-true Prince Karathanelan of Rethwellan. Will good triumph in the end? That answer will have to wait for the next book, as the master villain remains unknown. But it would take a poor gambler to bet against a set of characters so obviously beloved by their author, despite her inflicting a Germanic speech pattern on poor Alberich, who often sounds like Yoda. Long-time readers will appreciate learning more of favorite characters. Newcomers will definitely feel as though they have walked in on the middle of a gossipy conversation.