This is the sixth book in the series that started with Through Wolf's Eyes. If you're going to read the series, start at the beginning; there is far too much background that's referred to without being explained for this to make sense by itself.
Lindskold continues to explore new areas of the world, rather than going over the same ground again, but in this book most of the story actually happens in places we've already been, with the things from new areas just driving the plot rather than being the focus. The new characters seem to be a little thin, not really suitable for future development. I think the world is showing signs of being played out. But at the same time, I thought that there were some real insights into the human condition, particularly at the end, that made it worth reading. We also have an ending that would be a decent place to end the series, or if it does go on, to take it in a different direction.
My overall experience was dragged down quite a bit by the fact that it took me so long to finish the book. I just checked back, and it's been nearly two months since I posted my last review. Usually only managing a few pages, not even a whole chapter (and this book has 49 chapters) in the few minutes I can stay awake before turning out the light to sleep, and only rarely taking any other time to read, is just not kind to a book like this. Maybe it's a sign that it's not that good a book, because if it were I'd be motivated to find more time other than just before bed to read it. Maybe it's a sign that my priorities are wrong. And maybe it just means that I should stick to books that are quicker, easier reads. I did enjoy the last 100 or so pages more, but I think I still have to give the overall experience a 7 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
The story, as well as I can remember it. The early parts are pretty foggy, since I started the book in September.
Firekeeper gets the idea in her head that they need to track down the source of querinalo and learn how to defeat it, so that they won't have to continue to worry about either spreading the plague back to the New World or of new people from the New World coming down with it if they come to the Nexus Islands. She visits Meesheemnekuru to consult the maimalodalum and see if they have any ideas, and also prods thorough research in the Nexus' own archives. At the same time, the Old World powers that founded the New World colonies are getting together and deciding how to respond to the fact that the Nexus has been closed to them. In a nice study of the stupidity of nations, the Nexus just told the people who tried to come through that the gates were closed with no explanation as to why, and the Old World governments, instead of trying to learn more about the situation, work themselves up into a state of war, driven by the personal ambitions of Bryessidan, the king of the Mires, and some other rulers, who think that they can use this as a stepping stone to greater power.
Condensing a bit here, Firekeeper and Blind Seer get a hint that Virim, a figure from before querinalo, had something to do with it, and that they need to look for him in the northwest beyond the northern colonies. They activate a gate to New Kelvin, which comes out in a basement in Thendulla Lypella, where they meet Grateful Peace, who was alerted to their activating the gate. He agrees to let Firekeeper and Blind Seer travel through New Kelvin and to meet someone from the Nexus regularly to keep communication open. The wolves feel some pressure because Truth has divined that an invasion is coming. They arrive in the general area they seek and they are attacked by yarimaimalom who identify themselves as The Bound and declare that the wolves and Elation who has joined them will not pass. Firekeeper knows they are being watched and arranges a series of traps, over which she pretends to cast spells, and eventually a human comes and is caught. Bruck is almost killed by a spell, but Blind Seer attacks it, revealing his secret, that he is an untrained but powerful spellcaster. The human, Bruck, tells them that he is violating orders to come out, and he will not be rescued. The wolves retreat with him, but after getting more information from Bruck, they decide that Virim's stronghold is in disarray, lacking a leader. More importantly, they learned that while Virim originally created querinalo with altruistic motives to protect the Royal Beasts of the New World, he perverted the spell to divert some of what it stole from spellcasters into extending the lives of his group. They believe that Blind Seer in his querinalo dreams killed Virim and his other followers can't agree, and if they can come in and negotiate, they will get what they came for. The leave Bruck imprisoned and return, defeating the wolves who first attack them and winning enough of a breathing space to talk the rest of the Bound -- far more than the three could ever defeat -- into letting them approach the stronghold as supplicants to talk. When they get inside, they find a peculiar place full of people who are arguing with each other and pay them little attention. In the midst of the crowd, there is a single non-human figure, the mountain sheep of the querinalo dreams. Firekeeper and Blind Seer capture the sheep, and the Meddler helps them to find a gate which takes them to the Nexus Islands, but not the same island as the gates. They are surprised to discover that several days passed while they were in the strange place, which they eventually figure out was inside Virim's mind rather than a real place, and all of the arguing people were different aspects of Virim himself, even Bruck.
The battle is about to start in earnest. Blind Seer joins the spellcasters in trying to provide magical defenses. The attacking fleet lands a probing force, but they are thrown back. In the course of that fight Firekeeper is wounded. The Meddler takes the blood she is using and uses it as power to take over Virim's body and control him. Realizing that they don't have enough strength to prevail, they ask Grateful Peace to come and help them. He comes, and eventually contacts the sea monsters, who turn out to be some weird elemental creatures. Peace argues that if the Old World forces win, they will rediscover the magic that once held the sea monsters bound, and promises that if the Nexus forces win, the sea monsters will remain free. The sea monsters agree and interdict the fleet. Then the land invasion through the gates begins. Most of the gates are held well enough, but Tiniel has sole watch over the gate from u-Chivalum, and his anger brought on by the loss of his bond with Isende has made him so crazy that he's decided to betray the Nexus. He allows a large force to come through undetected, and this force kills many, and would have ended the combat there, except that the spellcasters have discovered, just in the nick of time, how to operate an old magical defense, and activate a shield over the gate hill that traps most of the invaders inside. But they know they will only be able to maintain the shield for a few days at most. Firekeeper gets the idea to bring the Bound through the gate on the nearby island, and the sea monsters provide passage over the sea. But the Meddler betrays Firekeeper on the other side of the gate, paralyzing her and trying to claim that he is protecting her by not allowing her to kill herself in the fight. Firekeeper manages to remember, despite the Meddler's meddling with her memory, that the Meddler vowed to honor her wishes when she allowed her to use her blood to take over Virim's body, and manages to force him to release her and to act as Virim to recruit the Bound.
The sea serpents arrange for clouds so thick at night that the trapped soldiers won't see any difference when the shield is dropped, and the yarimaimolum army attacks. They capture Bryessidan and the other leaders, and manage to convince them that they'd rather have a strong neutral Nexus than fight amongst each other for control of the gates. The Meddler is allowed to switch from sharing Virim's body (Virim doesn't want him there) to saving the life of a popular Once Dead singer who is about to die, so he gets to continue with a body. Virim repents his megalomania and requests to stay with the Nexus to learn and hopefully make some atonement for the harm he has caused. The Meddler makes a last appeal to Firekeeper of his love, and Firekeeper gives a moving speech about the real meaning of love, justifying fully her love of Blind Seer, and by proxy the validity of all non-child-producing loving relationships. (There is no suggestion that Blind Seer and Firekeeper have sex; the point of the argument is that their bond is much more important than sex, and they should not be expected to set that aside just so they can breed.) Then Tiniel, the traitor, is brought back from Hearthome where he was held. Isende forces him to look at all the injured, dying, and dead caused by his treachery, and perhaps he begins to get it -- not that it matters much, because he is beheaded a couple hours later. I found the justification of the execution compelling. A community is about trust, and when someone's actions betray the trust of the community so completely that he could never be trusted again, he should be permanently removed from it. He could be exiled, but what right does one community have to dump its problems on another by shipping out the people it doesn't want?
At the end of the book, Firekeeper and Blind Seer depart, on their own with no specific goals but feeling that they will see their comrades again, to see more of the world.