This book focuses largely on Cefwyn's dealings with the northern nobles. Cefwyn must now consolidate his tenuous hold on the throne, and prepare for a war in the spring. Having his two primary southern nobles completely devoted to him (Tristen and Ivanor), Cefwyn must now battle the xenophobic Quinalt Church, who want his Elwynim bride and resurrected Sihhë friend out of the picture. At the same time, he must somehow keep himself in a good standing with the powerful church.
Meanwhile, Tristen assumes his duty as Duke of Amefel - leaving King Cefwyn to fight his political battles alone - and the young Duke begins to right the wrongs of his predecessor, earning the loyalty of his new subjects, who see in him their long-promised Sihhë messiah. Tristen accepts that he may well be Sihhë, but rejects any claim to any crown, restating his fealty to Cefwyn, and his desire to see Ninevrisë finally placed on her throne in Elwynor. Tristen is also doing what he can to insure the stability of the kingdom. He is quickly rebuilding defenses and raising an army of southern levies in Amefel, despite the fact that such actions are expressly against the laws created by Cefwyn's weak father during his reign.
True to form, Cherryh explores Tristen's character thoroughly. Despite actually living in this world less than a year, he's not so naïve any longer, being forced to mature at a rapid pace. Tristen now faces difficult questions. Will he survive past the end of an entire year, or will he vanish back into the mists from which he was birthed? What about the evil forces prophesied to trouble his castle on midwinter's eve? In more corporeal matters, Tristen wonders whether the southern lords will heed his call to arms, in clear violation of the law. Tristen also manifests an innate knowledge of warfare, a legacy of his heritage, which makes for some interesting reading. Beset by self-discovery and doubt, Tristen's character continues to be wonderfully crafted, and is one the finest points in the novel.
Oddly enough, it seems that this latest installment has less action than the previous two. In fact, there's some strange parts where we simply read about ladies in the court sewing and gossiping. Plots are growing ever more intricate, and we can't help but wonder if the series is building to a fantastic end in the fourth novel, or if things are just going to get dragged out long past a reasonable conclusion. If the anticipated 'Fortress of Dragons' is to actually end the series, a lot has to happen. The status of Ninevrise's claim to the throne of Elwynor must be resolved, as well as the rebellion against Cefwyn in the north. And we have yet to actually learn anything of Tristen's true nature. Finally, what about Hasufin?
It seems like an awful lot of questions to be answered, and this book doesn't take any steps towards doing so. If anything, it just asks more. So, as which so much recent fantasy, it seems the series is getting drawn out. Still, this is a good book, and if you've read the other two, there's no reason to stop now.