(This has a lot of spoilers so readers beware!)
This is a story of two sisters: Val is strong, controlling and unemotional; Veronyka is kindhearted, wants to help others, and has a connection with animals. They are children of Phoenix Riders. Their parents and the phoenixes they rode have been killed in the war with the Empire. Val and Veronyka are both animages, with the ability to influence the minds and wills of animals. Val uses it to control and dominate; Veronyka uses it to treat the animals like friends. Phoenix Riders had the same abilities to bond with their phoenixes so that they could communicate in flight, combat, and friendship.
Val finds a phoenix egg and incubates it with Veronyka’s help. When the egg hatches, the phoenix immediately bonds with Veronyka, making Val angry. Val tries to force Veronyka to be unemotional about it. Soon, while Veronyka is mentally practicing communicating with the phoenix, Val wants her to be more demanding in ordering the phoenix to do something. This does not work, and Val brutally kills the phoenix, thereby severing its mind connection with Veronyka. Veronyka is devastated, and this betrayal leads to her finally standing up to Val. She then leaves to search for any Phoenix Riders in hiding.
As the story evolves, we learn more about the war between the Phoenix Riders and previous rulers that is still ongoing with the Empire. Spies are working for both sides. Veronyka disguises herself as a boy, because the Phoenix Riders have banned girls from being admitted to their new organization. As a boy, she is allowed to join in order to help with the horses and other animals because of her animage abilities. Making friends for the first time in her life, she finds it easier and better than living with her sister, but she is unable to share her true self until she re-bonds with her resurrected female phoenix, who had been captured and chained with the only other two female phoenixes. When her sister unexpectedly finds her with her phoenix and one of the Phoenix Riders, Veronyka is exposed as a girl. When the rider’s compound is ambushed by the Empire’s military, though, Veronyka is able to get the other riders to convince the other animals to help in defending their home. Afterwards she is offered a permanent place as a rider if she continues her disguise as a boy, but she refuses, insisting she will do it as a girl or take her phoenix, leaving them without a female to increase the population of phoenixes. She wins.
This book is intended as the first in a trilogy and leaves several questions unanswered. What happened to some of the spies? What will Val do next? Readers will be interested in following up the story in the next volume.
Offensive language isn’t an issue in this book, though there is some violence in the mention of the cutting off of heads. There is an inference of a male-to-male attraction but no actions are taken.