Ace, Oct 2004, 23.95, 448 pp.
The realm of Alera has been at peace for centuries having pushed the barbarian hordes back behind the borders into lands that the realm does not claim. Yet for its entire serene surface, civil war appears imminent unless one of the high lords manages to become First Lord by ousting the aging and heirless Gaius Sextus from power. So far the First Lord refuses to name his replacement.
Amara is unprepared when her mentor Fidelias asks her help in overthrowing the First Lord. When she refuses to abet his quest, he tries to torture her into giving him the response he needs in order to make an assassination attempt. The student uses magic to learn what is going on and escape.
Next, First Lord sends Amara to Calderon Valley on the outskirts of the realm where she learns Fidelias meets with his mercenaries and the barbarians who killed the First Lord's son. They overrun the valley to persuade people that the empire is crumbling and new leadership is needed to save Alera.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner