Mavin's trilogy is a prequel to Sheri Tepper's stories of the lands of the True Game. When we meet the famous shape-changer in the other six novels, she is a grown adult. We know her as Peter's mother and Himaggery's sometimes lover, but mostly she is an occasional actor whose critical importance to the series only flowers at the end. However, Mavin is a spectacular person all on her own, and with this novel we start with her beginnings in Danderbat keep.
Shape-changer culture is more than a little odd. The ability to be almost anything creates a certain tricksy attitude and a need for a very different set of rules than apply to other gamesmen. In Danderbat, female shape-changers are rare, and their lot is to bear children for the keep before they can find their own freedom. This is not a very pleasant fate, and Mavin's sister Handbright, unable to conceive, has been thoroughly worn down by the pressures of being an available resource. When Mavin's talent finally surfaces, she has no desire to take Handbright's place. Instead, she works her sister's release, and then escapes with Mertyn, her brother.
On her way to another shifters' keep, Mavin falls in with the entourage of the seer Windlow who is gathering students for the school he is starting at High Demesne. A stop at Pfarb Durim on the way exposes Mertyn to ghoul-plague, which has been released by Blourbast. He is a gamesman of extremely indelicate tastes whose demesne is Poffle, called Hell's Maw by most. Blourbast's hunger for the Shadowpeople is the source of the infection. And since Healers refuse to come to Poffle or Pfarb Durim, only the Shadowpeople can undo the infection.
But for them to do that they need the return of a special token, a gift from the Ganver the Eestie. Mavin to the rescue, of course. But not without several unnerving experiences and a great deal of self-discovery. The shape-changer's unorthodox mind defamiliarizes what was already the unpredictable world of the True Game.
Readers of the first six books in this series will find many old friends (and enemies) who appear here (pre-appear here?) for the first time. Prepare for the appearances of Huld and Huldra, Proom, the Wizard Himaggery, Mertyn, Windlow and countless others too numerous to name. The tale's richness comes from its connections to the earlier tales that follow it as well as its own narrative uniqueness. It can almost stand alone, or be read first, but the story relies on some experience of the True Game to make complete sense.