This is the second part of the duology begun in 'The Silence of Medair'. It demonstrates the greatest strength of self-publishing, in that it allows the author the freedom to break away from the tired old tropes and traditions, and create something stunningly different. This is a wonderful, character-driven story with great depth.
The plot is too complicated to summarise briefly - suffice it to say that 'wild magic' has been let loose on the world, with strange and unpredictable consequences. This allows a number of dramatic twists - or rather, abrupt shifts of direction, which are in places hard to keep up with. I was repeatedly taken by surprise at these shifts, never seeing any of them coming, although they were all logical within the constructs of the story. Medair's capable self-reliance in the first book is no use in this wild-magic-driven world, and she becomes not much more than baggage for the skilled mages (adepts) at points, and dangerously close to the helpless female needing to be rescued. This is less disappointing than it might be, since the adepts are almost as helpless - even the most skilled are lost in the new world order, struggling to make the right decisions and find a way back to some kind of stability.
It has to be said that, although the events in the book are very dramatic, it's not really an action book. The main focus is Medair herself, her struggles with her own feelings and her constant rationalisations. There is a lot of angst here. Having failed in her original quest to defend her country against invasion, she has now accepted that the invaders are the establishment and has joined forces with them to defeat the new invaders, who are trying to restore the old order of five centuries ago. But naturally she feels all the guilt of her decisions, and this is where the book raises all the interesting questions: can you ever stop hating? where does hate end and love begin, and can you love and hate at the same time? when does an invading army become part of the invaded country? how do you live with your choices even when they were the best (or perhaps least worst) at the time? how do you know you made the right choice? can you make the right choice for the wrong reasons? And then there are the questions of race: are the small number of remaining 'pure blood' Ibisians less a part of their new home country than those of mixed blood? And is someone more (or less) Ibisian or Palladian because of the way they look? And the author cleverly addresses the issues without ever pulling out cultural or racial clichés. This is very elegantly done.
The characters themselves are well-drawn enough that we can understand and sympathise with their dilemmas. The focus in this book is almost entirely on Medair and Illukar, with the rest more in the background, but even so they all have their own problems to address - Ileaha in particular. I was disappointed that we saw so little of Avahn, however, since he was so easy to like, being more outgoing than most Ibisians. Fortunately Illukar opens up a lot in this book. I was a little surprised that some of the Decians became important characters here, since, although they were always important to the plot, the characters themselves seemed to be very much on the periphery in the first book (but on reflection, all the clues were there, I just wasn't paying attention - I was too focused on the Ibisians). And I was again delighted to see so many women in important roles - rulers, warriors, mages and not a whore in sight.
I have the same issues with the magic here as in the first book - it seems, at times, just too convenient, too powerful, and wild magic, in particular, seems to obey no real rules. This makes it possible for almost anything to happen at any moment, and the ending, as far as I could see, just came out of nowhere. I like magic to conform to some kind of system, so that when it's used you can see exactly how it might happen (so you say 'oh, of course' rather than 'wait, what?'). But on the other hand, it was a very fitting end for the story, totally appropriate for the characters, so it made complete sense in that way.
This is not a book for everyone. Those who prefer lots of action, big battle scenes and the like, will be disappointed at the introspective nature of the book. It's not that there is NO action, there is in fact plenty happening and very dramatic it is too, but it's mostly the salad garnish to the main dish of Medair reflecting on her decisions, her feelings and her guilt. I can't imagine what a mainstream publisher would do to a book like this, but personally I'm very glad that the author eventually managed to self-publish and put it out into the world as it was meant to be - quirky, original, intelligent and thought-provoking. I don't often give out five stars, and never before to a self-published work, but this deserves it.