Lady Thora has been a ward of the Kaiser’s court since his Kalovaxian warriors conquered Astrea, her home country, and enslaved what survivors escaped the initial slaughter. As the daughter of the murdered Astrean queen, Thora is kept in a fair amount of luxury and enjoys the companionship of Crescentia, the daughter of Theyn, the Kaiser’s chief military advisor.
Thora nonetheless is spied on 24/7 by three Shadows who report back to the Kaiser on everything she says and does. She also serves as whipping boy for all Astrean offenses occurring against the Kalovaxians, being publicly flogged or disciplined whenever there is an infraction or rebellion or disgrace that enrages the Kaiser. These punishments she accepts submissively, refusing to give the Kaiser satisfaction by any outcry of anger or pain.
Things change when she is commanded to kill an Astrean rebel (a close acquaintance of her mother and herself). She allies herself with rebels promoting rebellion in the mines and planning a Kalovaxian overthrow. She forms a romantic relationship with the Kaiser’s son and uses it to gather strategic military information. And so on. There are mystical, powerful Spiritgems, mine madness happenings, tunnel escapes and pirates. Nothing’s lacking.
No language issues. No sex. A couple of matter-of-fact references to gay partners. Some violence. Some questioning of religious faith in powers that don’t seem to be protecting their followers.
The book is well-written and fast-paced and raises interesting questions about the costs of leadership and the value of sacrifice to a greater cause.