This is the first in a high fantasy series by the author of the Dresden Files books. Although the end clearly foreshadows future stuff in the series, it's a fairly complete story.
I started out really enjoying this book. We're introduced to small aspects of a world that seems to extend well beyond the story at hand, and a magic system that's, if not blindingly original, at least quite significantly different from what we'd see in a D&D game. Unfortunately, as the story started to get more complicated and the action more breathless, I started getting more distracted by other things, and by the end I was having a lot of trouble keeping everything straight. I think the failure is more mine than the author's, but still, by the end, it didn't seem to have quite lived up to what I was expecting in the beginning. Early in the book I'd really gotten into the world, but I was much less engaged at the end, even though there was plenty of excitement and no major cheating in the plot. (There were a couple of surprises, but they weren't the sort of surprise that just arbitrarily changes the whole course of the novel for no apparent reason.) So I'm rating my book-reading experience as I had it, but saying that I think I would have liked the last half of the book a lot more if I'd been in a better mental place to appreciate it. 7 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Tavi is our main protagonist. Although there are hints all over the place that he's Someone Special, all he knows or that's officially admitted is that he's the son of Steadholder Bernard's sister Amara, he's 15, and he hasn't (at least so far) found any furies. Furies are the magic in the world; magic is called furycrafting. Furies are some sort of elemental spirits which bond with individual people, giving them powers. Different flavors of elementals give different powers, and different people's furies are of different strengths. Some people have near god-like powers, some much less, but it's unheard of for someone to have no powers at all, which of course means Tavi has all kinds of problems. The adventure starts when he gets beguiled by a young lady into doing a favor instead of bringing in his sheep. Then when he goes out with Bernard the next day, they see something they weren't supposed to. One of the barbarian Marat is in their valley. The Marat have no furies, but they have immense physical prowess and they bond with powerful animals. This Marat's animals are giant fightless predator birds called herdbane. Bernard is critically wounded and manages to arrange a crafting that will take him home. Tavi manages to distract the Marat's attention so Bernard can get to safety, but now he's being chased by a Marat.
Meanwhile our other protagonist, Amara, is having her final exam to become a Cursor -- messenger and special agent for the First Lord. She and her mentor Fidelias are scouting out the camp of a renegade Legion. They sneak in but are captured and held separately. She hears what sounds like Fidelias being executed, but she refuses to talk. Then Fidelias himself tries to convince her to turn traitor as he has. Fidelias justifies himself by saying that the current First Lord is old, weak, and has no heir; some sort of civil war is inevitable, therefore it's in the best interest of the people to side with the side that will end up winning and get it over with as quickly and bloodlessly as possible. Amara doesn't go for it and escapes.
Tons of stuff starts happening, and I can't remember it all or keep it all straight, so I'm going to try to hit a few high points. Kord is a rival Steadholder and a real scum, not only trading in slaves but treating all of the people in his holding as slaves. Until the shit really hits the fan, he's stirring up all kinds of trouble trying to avoid a proper trial of his son who is accused (though not yet formally) of a rape (that he's probably really guilty of). Because of the shit Kord is pulling, Isana, Bernard's sister, a powerful watercrafter (healer), can't attend to Bernard right away when his spell delivers him home. He actually dies, but Imara won't let him go and manages to bring him back (at considerable risk to herself). Meanwhile, Tavi has almost made it home through a magically enhanced storm when Amara essentially lands on him when her flying magic runs out. There are wild, inimical air furies called Windmanes in the storm. Salt is deadly to these creatures, but Tavi only has a small amount, and the storm itself is plenty to kill them anyway, so he leads her to shelter in the memorial that marks the place where the Princeps -- the dead heir of the First Lord -- died in the last war with the Marat. Amara doesn't want to reveal herself because she knows Fidelias will be looking for her, so she pretends to be a slave claiming to be delivering a message (but if she were really a slave, she would apparently be a runaway). Bernard comes out and brings in Tavi and Amara, who are just starting to recover when Fidelias and his companions (Odiana, a psychotic watercrafter, and Aldrick, whose metalcraft makes him probably the best swordsman in the world) show up at the hold claiming hospitality. Amara and Tavi escape out a window. Fade, a half-witted slave, insists on following them, and rather than risk further delay and fuss, they let him come. Bernard and Isana end up pursuing them, as do Fidelias and company, but they end up first caught by Kord and his sons. Considerable chaos ensues; Tavi and Fade go one way, and Amara another. Tavi is caught by the Marat, specifically by Doroga, headman of the Gargant clan (a gargant being an elephant sized animal, apparently herbivorous, but with claws -- perhaps a giant sloth?). Doroga is a rival of Atrurak the herdbane headman who's gotten the Marat involved in this war, and he doesn't approve, but he's bound by Marat traditions. He lets Tavi know that if no one objects to the claim that Tavi and Fade are enemies of the Marat, they will be summarily eaten -- but Tavi himself can stand up and claim that the accusation is in error, and this claim must be resolved in a Trial before the One. Because he wants Tavi to win, Doroga makes his own child Kitai his champion (Tavi would obviously not be able to defeat Doroga) and sets them the task of collecting a special mushroom from a weird place in the forest covered with waxy growth. Tavi manages to convince Kitai that they can and must work together, and togethre they evade the spiderlike guardians. Tavi collects the magic mushroom, and also saves Kitai's life by risking his own right in front of Doroga, which means Doroga is on his side and there will be a split in the Marat horde. Even so, the fortress called Garrison which guards the entrance to Calderon valley is drastically overmatched by the Marat horde and the renegade Knights. Much heroics ensue and the good guys manage to hold out by the skin of their teeth until Doroga, leading Gargant and Horse clans, overrun Herdbane clan and scare off Wolf clan. One heroic incident involves Fade picking up a stray sword, matching Aldrick in magic-enhanced swordplay, and making Aldrick fall off a wall. In another, Odiana saves the lives of Bernard and Tavi, repaying Isana's favor for helping the two of them escape enslavement by Kord (I guess I skipped that bit). Kord had locked himself in a warehouse with Isana during the battle, but Isana managed to drop some crates on him to cripple him. Kord was forced to remove the discipline collar from Odiana. Then Odiana planted some Horse clan scalps on him, and left him (crippled but alive) to be killed by the barbarians.
In the end, First Lord Gaius makes Bernard Count, Isana Steadholder, and sponsors Tavi to train at the Academy.