Nemienne learns she has an affinity for the magical arts and uses her magic to save not only her sister, but the entire city of Lirionne and its Prince. Nemienne is the odd, half-forgotten middle daughter of a gaggle of beautiful and talented sisters, who is searching for her place in the world. When tragedy strikes her family in the form of her father's sudden death, the sisters find themselves in deep financial debt. In a bid to help their sisters re-establish themselves and their father's business, Nemienne and one of her most beautiful sisters, Karah, are "sold" into various apprenticeships in Lirionne. Because Karah is so beautiful, she immediately finds a coveted spot in a Flower House called Cloisonne House, where she is essentially a trained to become a talented courtesan. Nemienne, however, finds herself taken in as an apprentice to a mage called Mage Ankennes, one of the most powerful mages in Lirionne. The story switches between the points of view of Nemienne, Karah and two other characters, one called Taudde, who is a foreign bard with a secret, and another called Leilis, who is a Flower Lady who also has a mysterious past.
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Because Karah is so innocent and her beauty so enthralling, the other ladies of the Flower House are immediately jealous - especially Lily, who is the daughter of Narienneh, the Mother - or owner - of Cloisonne House. Leilis, who works at the Flower House as a pseudo personal assistant to Narienneh, immediately feels protective over Karah and finds herself putting a lot of effort into watching Karah closely and subtly convincing Narienneh to take precautions to protect her. She orchestrates events so that Karah is immediately promoted from a keiso, which is a term used to define an apprentice courtesan, to a deisa, who is an official Lady of the Flower House. Leilis also arranges that a sympathetic deisa called Rue will be her "older sister" and, in essence, show Karah the proper etiquette and behavior of a deisa of Cloisonne House.
Meanwhile, Nemienne is learning the ways of a mage from Mage Ankennes, who is a mysterious master. The house where he lives (and where she apprentices) is a strange house where corridors and rooms can lead to different dimensions, or totally different places in the world. Nemienne often finds herself tempted to explore the places behind some of the doors. One day, she enters a pitch black room and immediately gets lost. After many hours of wandering, she somehow finds herself at her Sister's house. Nemienne learns about Sympathetic magic, which is magic that links one object to another object similar to it, allowing actions done towards one object to affect the other.
Taudde is a bardic sorceror from the land of Kalches, which is slated to resume a war with the land of Lirionne after many years of fragile peace. Taudde was visiting Lirionne under the guise of a foreign bard from another amicable land in order to study the magic of the sea, which is inaccessible from his motherland, Kalches. He suspects his true identity has been discovered by Mage Ankennes and Lord Miennes, who is a Lord with greasy intentions of using Taudde's powers for his own agenda. Mage Ankennes and Lord Miennes threaten to inform the soldiers of Lirionne who Taudde really is unless he agrees to be complicit in their plan to kill the Prince of Lirionne. Taudde has no choice but to obey and employs his music-based magic to fashion a set of deadly pipes. Even though their countries are enemies, he doesn't want to kill the Prince, who he think is a good man in person.
One night, Taudde invites the Prince, Mage Ankennes, Lord Miennes and some other nobles to a high-class evening in Cloisonne House. Present as entertainment is Rue, Karah and in the background, Leilis. Taudde is curious about Leilis because she isn't a deisa but yet she's not a servant, either. Upon touching her, he immediately senses the curse that lingers on her body, making it jarring for anyone to touch her. He discovers that this is why she may tragically never become a deisa. He wants to know more about Leilis and is, in some ways, intrigued by her. Leilis herself is surprised that Taudde is not repelled by her curse but she is determined to keep to the business-end of the evening's entertainment. At the gathering, everyone is enthralled by Karah's innocent beauty - the Prince especially. During a gift-giving ceremony, Taudde gives the Prince one set of pipes and he gives Lord Miennes the matching set. Later on, after the evening is over, he instructs Lord Miennes to play any tune on the pipes to send the Prince to death via sympathetic magic. What he didn't expect, however, is that the Prince ends up giving Karah his set of pipes, as a love token.
One night, Nemienne wakes up to find herself surrounded by pitch black, somewhere entirely not in her room. Somehow, she finds her sister, Karah, is there, too. Together, the two sisters wander for hours with only a pale light that Nemienne conjures to light their way. They find a large cave with a stone dragon, which frightens Nemienne. Eventually, they wander out of the darkness and find themselves in Leilis' fireplace! Leilis is not amused, however, she immediately suspects something is wrong when she hears the full story and sees that Karah's pipes are now crumbled and burnt looking. She puts two and two together and suspects that the pipes, which were originally intended for the Prince, were meant to do some devious magic on the Prince. She is aghast that the foreigner, Taudde, may have instigated the whole plot.
Meanwhile, Taudde has discovered that the Prince is still alive, though Lord Mienne is dead. Taudde had set a trap for Lord Mienne to ensure that when he did play a tune on the pipes, he would be sending himself to death as well. He is relieved that the Prince is still alive but horrified that he almost killed the innocent girl, Karah. He finds out that Leilis has the pipes and may be on her way to reporting him to the authorities so he sets off after her. When he finally finds Leilis and convinces her to trust him, he and Leilis find themselves transported to the cave where the stone dragon is.
Meanwhile, Nemienne has a conversation with Mage Ankennes, who seems intrigued about the stone dragon. He reveals his obsession about destroying the stone dragon, who he thinks is responsible for all the strife and darkness in the lands. Mage Ankenne sends Nemienne on an errand to find Leilis and the destroyed pipes. While on the errand at Cloisonne House, Nemienne realizes that he may be have a sinister agenda to kill the Prince and use the sympathetic magic to destroy the dragon (this is possible as the Prince and the royal line are intrinsically linked with the Dragon's spirit). She and her sister use Leilis' fireplace to enter the dark tunnels that lead to the dragon's cave. She plans on using the link from her love for Karah, and Karah's love for the Prince as a way of saving the Prince from death if Mage Ankennes does indeed try to kill him.
A showdown ensues in the dragon's cave, where Mage Ankennes forces Taudde to use his bardic sorcery to send the Prince to death. Somehow, Taudde understands Nemienne's plan to save the Prince, so he plays the tune that sends the prince into the dimension of death. Because her link was so strong to the Prince's, Karah is also sent into death. Nemienne finds that she cannot call her sister back. Suddenly, the King appears in the cave and demands that Mage Ankennes return his son. They subdue Mage Ankennes and the King himself traverses into death in order to find his son and bring him and Karah back. His return from death awakens the Dragon. The Mage immediately tries to kill the dragon but Taudde uses his bardic magic to make the Mage's weapons turn against him, killing the Mage instead. The Dragon allows everyone to leave the cave, after securing the promise from the King that he shall strive to ensure his people and his lands live in peace.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Nemienne has to sit in the darkness of the caves and try to learn how to conjure up light - it was just so bizarre and interesting a way to train.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Nemienne isn't afraid of the dark and is intelligent as she can figure out lots of information even when given only very few details.