The story opens in a dungeon, Alec of Kerry has been wrongfully imprisoned and is awaiting his fate. Cold and scared, alone in the world now that his father is dead, he fully expects to die. Until, another prisoner is dragged into his cell. This man is loudly complaining of his treatment as he his chained to the wall, proclaiming that he is a bard and not a spy. In very little time, this ‘bard’ manages to escape his shackles, out another prisoner as a spy in the guards pay, and spring Alec. They flee together and Alec becomes Seregil’s guide to another town. Along the way, Seregil decides to take Alec on as his protege and Alec finds his first clues about what Seregil actually does for a living.
They run afoul of Mardus, a powerful and suspicious man from the rival nation of Plenimar. Seregil has stolen a simple wooden disc that looks like nothing more than a crude playing token from Mardus, only to find that there is now a price on both his and Alec’s heads! They run, just ahead of the guards and decide to make for Rhiminee where a wizard friend of Seregil’s lives. Along the way, Seregil becomes sick and a little crazy from unknown causes. Alec must figure out how to get them both to Rhiminee on his own, and before Seregil dies of the infection.
Finally arriving, Alec is met by the wizard Nysander who tells him that he was expecting them. Once Seregil is recovering, Alec’s training begins again. And he learns that Seregil is actually a noble, as well as a thief and a spy who actually works for the Queen herself. Though she does not know this as all reports are given to her by Nysander.
While being instructed in his new life by Seregil and his new friends, Seregil is framed for treason. Alec must help the others clear Seregil’s name before he is taken to the block, as well as find the true people behind a sinister plot against the throne.
I love this series as far as I’ve read it (which at this point is only to book 3). But commenting only on this first book, everything introduced in the book is relevant. There is no throwing in of random elements just to move the plot along. If it is mentioned once, you can be sure that the person/history/guild/whatever it is, is going to pop up again later in the book, and most likely later in the series as well. There is also not a huge amount of info-dumping. The history you need to know about Skala is wonderfully laid out through Seregil ‘teaching’ it to Alec throughout the book. Little bits here, little bits there, it’s laid out well and you don’t suffer from information over-load. The characters are well-rounded, they all have strengths and flaws that are easy to see, and make themselves memorable.
Seregil is smart and cunning, but also playful and likes poking fun. He can be serious and deadly when the occasion warrants, and transitioning between his many sides is done fluidly. Alec starts out as a shy and naive teenager, who we get to watch grow up in some ways as the story unfolds. He is smart and learns quickly, stubborn and loyal.
It isn’t a central plot line, but for those who prefer to stay away from that kind of thing, the main characters Alec and Seregil, do end up falling in love in the 2nd book in this series. There is none of the angst about it being ‘wrong’, as in this world it isn’t as big a deal. It just kind of happens to them naturally in the course of their friendship. And there is no dwelling on it, it is just one of those things that ‘is’. I would highly recommend this book to those who like a little intrigue and twists in their fantasy.