A curse was laid on a continent several generations ago, which has now come to life, and a mage's blood is needed to lift it. But that mage must be a legitimate royal prince. Harkeld doesn't want anything to do with witchery, and is distraught to hear that a mage was inveigled into his family's bloodline. His tyrant father wants the curse to be lifted only when it allows their kingdom to seize empty land. But Harkeld is not prepared to have the continent laid waste and escapes with his life. All that is needed is to chop off his hands and bring his blood to three rune stones in turn, so assassins follow as he chases off with a small band of mages to lift the curse.
Innis is a young female mage and with her friends she can shapeshift. Taking animal or bird form is well and good, but people fear them, and their rules forbid taking human form. Unless, of course, it's life or death. And this occasion warrants such measures. Innis takes the form of a normal soldier, an armsman to guard the prince. Between hawks in the sky and wolves patrolling, Harkeld has no idea that his armsman is any of three mages in turn, conserving their energy and swopping places.
We also get Brigitta the sister of Harkeld, a princess married off as a reward to a soldier, with no say in her life, and her two servants who would give their lives for her. And a young boy who flees the waking curse and starts a refugee flood moving, heading towards Harkeld and his escort on the other side of the continent.
I liked the story which is slow-moving enough to get deeply into the situations and has action and vivid characters. Years ago there might have been uproar about a woman shifting into the form of a man, but it's a good idea well worked out and the story flows. One of the rune stones is addressed in this book so clearly there will be a trilogy. I'm looking forward to the rest.