This is the fourth in her Nightrunner series; however, it is only loosely related to the first three and I think it would work as a stand-alone. Reading the others first would be nice, but the relevant parts of the history are explained; reading this first would spoil some of the plot of the earlier books, though (who survives, Alec’s heritage, etc.). I haven’t read the others in a while (and I didn’t make it through Traitor’s Moon the last time I reread the first two), but didn’t really feel like I was missing anything. There is also apparently a direct sequel planned for this book, but the ending of this one is satisfactory.
The book opens with Seregil and Alec having some problems while recovering a stolen brooch, followed by a discussion of their current situation (boredom, mostly) and the events leading up to it. They are tired of acting as nobles and the occasional petty jobs as nightrunners and the lack of serious business; they had previously acted as Watchers (spying and other sorts of undercover work on behalf of the government), but had not been called upon to do that sort of work in a while. They are eventually given the job of going to Aurënen to tell Princess Klia that she is to return to Skala to act as the queen’s field commander and to escort her back as quickly as possible. On the way, their group is ambushed, they are kidnapped, and everyone else is killed. They are then sold as slaves; most of the book is about their experiences (separately) as slaves. Alec was wanted by the alchemist Yhakobin; one of Yhakobin’s other slaves (Khenir) knew of Alec’s existence and possible suitability and was promised freedom and Seregil as a reward. After the first few chapters, there is nothing that connects this book to the previous volumes; the first chapters exist to give backstory and an excuse for travel, but the backstory is not relevant to the events of this book. There is a bit of Seregil’s past involved, but it is his distant past and is fully explained. Someone with a grudge against Seregil from the previous books is slightly involved with the kidnapping (provided information, maybe?); his grudge is not really explained but is not relevant.
I bought this because it’s a book about Alec and Seregil, even though the back cover description made me fairly sure it was not the book for me, specifically “En route, however, they are ambushed and separated, and both are sold into slavery.” That is Not My Thing, but I read it and liked it anyway, even though thirty of the forty-seven chapters involved Alec and Seregil separated and captive and suffering various forms of physical (not graphically described, thankfully) and mental pain; admittedly, there are a few chapters in those thirty involving people realizing that they are missing and setting out to the rescue. They also spent a noticeable portion of their time together arguing. I would rather have read a book about Alec and Seregil facing adversity together instead of separately, though.
I did like this book (bought it new, don’t regret buying it, am looking forward to the next), but had some problems with it that I think can be summed up as too much hurt, not enough comfort, and also not enough plot, really. This book has a narrower scope than the others; there is immediate danger to Alec and Seregil, but it is personal; there is no larger threat. The previous books dealt with plots against the country and treason and spying and warfare; the war is continuing in the background, but isn’t really relevant. I generally think a little politics goes a long way (and have stopped reading books because the emphasis shifted from people to politics) but I would have welcomed more of the politics and the changes due to the events in the past books. I would also have liked more action and less slavery (well, I would have liked anything other than Alec and Seregil as slaves).
The epilogue sets up part of the plot for the next book (coming summer 2009!): the Hazâdriëlfaie are not happy; the ad for the next book sets up another part: Alec and Seregil and others go in search of the Hazâdriëlfaie looking for answers. Despite my problems with this book, I am looking forward to the next one.