When Queen Elana dies, underaged Rodrigo's status as the rightful king is instantly threatened by the ambitions of his uncle. Despite his personal shortcomings and manifest lack of readiness to rule, he has loyal friends and allies and they help him first to flee his uncle and, gradually, to fight and win the most important battle of the war for Caledon: the struggle to command himself. Only then can he begin to claim his kingdom.
This isn't a sanitized Fantasyland, nor is it a comfortable story. David Feintuch doesn't flinch from the violence and roughness of his medieval setting, and his depiction of Rodrigo's striving for self-confidence and the respect of others is hard-hitting and hard to put down. There's room for a sequel, but no real need: the coming-of-age story is the heart of this book, and it beats vividly.
After the sudden death of his mother, young Prince Rodrigo of Caledon has to fight for his right to rule rather than be subjected to a regency he probably would not survive. Unfortunately, he also appears unfit to rule. He is callow, selfish, and burdened by the requirement to remain a virgin (with women, anyway) in order to wield royal power. Thanks to a fascinating array of friends (including his companion and lover, Rustin) and enemies (including his uncle and half the nobility of Caledon, plus foreign invaders), Rodrigo slowly and painfully matures. The process may be slow and painful for some readers, too, for Feintuch is definitely prolix in large parts of this book. On the other hand, the maturing of an adolescent ruler in a fanciful medieval society has seldom been handled in such painstaking detail. Not quite up to the level of his Nicholas Seafort series, Feintuch's latest is an intelligent and ultimately admirable book, nevertheless, and it hints strongly at a sequel. Roland Green