Here the fantasy empire ruling the land of Saramyr has an oriental flavour, a level of technology that allows rifles and bombs and a communications system relying on magic--the sorcery of the dreaded, masked Weavers. By manipulating the magical Weave of the world, a kind of fantasy cyberspace, Weavers can not only send messages over any distance but manipulate minds, fight intangibly and kill. They are incidentally made rotted and cancerous by their masks, and have revolting habits such as raping and killing small children. Make no mistake, these are the bad guys.
All other forms of magic talent are denounced as Aberrant and the talent-owners condemned to death. Rebellion brews among the Empire's people and powerful noble factions when it emerges that the Heir-Empress Lucia is Aberrant, with gentle powers of communication with birds and earth-spirits. Meanwhile another girl, Kaiku, is orphaned when her family is both poisoned by an unknown hand and attacked by "shin-shin" demons. Kaiku soon finds that she herself is dangerously Aberrant, apt to send out waves of uncontrollable fire. Kaiku makes a quixotic journey with unusual companions, and, by use of the mask that is her sole inheritance, enters a protected place to discover the grim secret of what's slowly poisoning the land. It is not, as the Weavers insist, the existence of Aberrants. Kaiku and her friends join the Red Order, a sisterhood of trained Aberrants, in a desperate effort to save Lucia from the general bloodshed of the inevitable Imperial coup. Many characters fail to survive for the backlash expected in volume two.
Although Chris Wooding overdoes the repulsiveness of the Weavers themselves--nightmare caricatures rather than plausible villains--his talent for atmosphere and description makes this a memorably intense, exotic adult-fantasy debut. --David Langford