I thought I knew where this novel was going, but very near the end, it went sharply off in a new direction. Not a bad direction, just unexpected.
Kaylin receives a message from the lord of the fief of Barren, where she spent some time after leaving the fief of Nightshade. Barren has some dirt on Kaylin's past, and threatens to reveal it to her new friends on the right side of the Ablayne River, if she doesn't come to visit.
There are quite a few flashbacks in this one. The message was delivered by a woman called Morse, who taught Kaylin (then known as Eliana) most of what she knows about killing. Barren used Kaylin as one of his assassins, removing troublesome folks from the fief, until he sent her on a suicidal quest to kill the Lord of Hawks, in the city of Elantra.
Through the flashbacks, we learn how Kaylin first arrived in Barren, how she survived there, and even get some insight into her early life, when her mother was still alive. We also learn quite a bit more about the nature of the fiefs, the towers and castles at the hearts of the seven fiefs, and their creation by the Old Ones.
There is a theme that runs through this book about the nature of love, belonging, and dealing with abandonment and guilt. It's a bit heavy for entertainment in a fantasy novel, but every author should get their chance to say what's on their mind, right?
The battle with the shadows, the Outcaste dragon, and the evil at the heart of the seventh fief is still coming, and being well set up in this installment. I definitely need to put the next two books on a library hold request.