Fifteen-year old Wynter Moorehawke returns home with her father, to the court of King Jonathan. Her father, Lord Protector Lorcan Moorehawke is a Master Carpenter and Wynter has risen to be a ranked apprentice in the trade, but her father is also a close friend to the King and she has grown up with Razi, the elder illegitimate son and Alberon, the younger Heir. But after years in the North with her father on a mission for the King, they return to find everything mysteriously and frighteningly changed. Her once robust father is in ill-health after a long sickness, Prince Alberon has mysteriously disappeared along with Lord Oliver who was one of the King's greatest supporters, the scholarly Prince Razi is being forced into position as the new Heir and the King seems to be going mad--repressing dissent ruthlessly in ways he had previously disdained and using those around him with equal brutality.
Wynter has always known that life at court was hazardous, but now there seems to be danger everywhere and all former refuges, with her formerly strong father, with the support of the princes whom she regards as brothers, with the people of the castle whom were almost like parents to her, no longer secure. Prince Razi is powerless, his friend Christopher is threatened if he does not go along with the King, and Razi worries that anyone close to him, including Wynter and her father, will also be used to control him, so he has to keep his distance. No one knows where Prince Alberon is or what he is up to. The King suspects he is in league to overthrow him and in order to save the Kingdom he will stop at nothing, even if it means destroying his own sons and his old friendship with Wynter's father, or even resort to using a secret and horrific weapon that even puts fear into the heart of Wynter's gruff and strong-willed father.
Wynter is thrust into the middle of danger and intrigue. She's still young enough to long for the safety and security of the past--with her old friends and pleasant way of life--and desires to run from the demands of the future. But she quickly learns that there is no safe refuge and she is forced to act, no matter how unwillingly.
This is an exciting and suspenseful tale, the beginning of a trilogy that will relate the complete story. The characters are wonderfully drawn and very alive, from the servants to the king himself, who can seem both mad and evil and yet very human and understandable. Raji and Christopher are instantly intriguing and sympathetic. Wynter was a bit harder for me to bond with as she is at a pivotal point in her life, still young and uncertain but trying to grow into her abilities as a trained apprentice and someone able to follow in the footsteps of her indomitable father--and at times she seems a little too self-centered and overly concerned with small things. Because of her age and because she's the point of view character, there is a strong young adult feel to the book, but there's also enough complexity and other characters to easily appeal to older adults. I'm well in the latter group and am eagerly awaiting the next book.