Newly married couple Fawn and Dag struggle against his family's disapproval while also dealing with a Malice outbreak. Fawn is a young farm girl newly married to Dag, the Lakewalker patrol man who she met in the events of the first book in the series.
The book opens on their first wedded night together as they travel from her farm to Hickory Lake, the encampment of his people. As they make love and Dag notices for the second time in a week that his groundsense (the Lakewalker form of magic) seems to extend to his left hand, except he lost that hand in a battle decades ago.
They arrive in Hickory Lake and Dag reports in to his commanding officer, Fairbolt. He knows there will be resistance to his mixed marriage, but he and Fawn crafted marriage bracelets in the Lakewalker tradition, each imbuing the other's with their own life force, and he hopes that will satisfy most people.
When they first met, Dag rescued Fawn from an evil creature called a malice, which steals people's lifeforce or “ground”. Malices can be killed with special knives called “sharing knives” which are made from the donated bone of a dead Lakewalker and then primed with the death blood of a second one. Fawn managed to stab the malice with an unprimed sharing knife, but the malice had just caused her to miscarry her unborn child and its blood seems to have primed the knife. This is unheard of in Lakewalker lore, and they've brought the knife to show to a Lakewalker magic maker hoping to learn more.
Fawn meets Dag's family, starting with his sister-in-law and his brother Dar. Dar is a maker of sharing knives and they ask him to look at Fawn's knife. Dar clearly disapproves of the marriage and is dismissive of Fawn. He looks at the knife and tells them it's useless, since only Lakewalker heartblood can prime a knife.
Later Dag confesses to Fawn that the probable reason why Lakewalker blood is needed to kill a malice is because according to legend the malices were born from a wicked king who became a malice while attempting to become immortal. The Lakewalkers are the descendants of that king and his people. This is why they are pledged to hunt down and destroy all of the creatures.
Dag goes to a healer to look at his broken arm, and while he's there he asks about his magical phantom limb. She checks and is astonished to see it's real, she suggests he be tested as a maker (like his brother) although he was tested as a youth and found lacking.
Dag's brother and mother are still set against the marriage, they point out that farmers don't have groundsense and his half-blood children will therefore be limited in their ambitions. Dag disagrees, saying he's seen groundsense in outsiders before. Dar tells him a camp council will force a divorce, though traditionally at least one of the partners needs to agree for that so Dag isn't convinced.
Before the council is convened Dag is sent out to lead a patrol against a malice outbreak that has grown under a farm town and spread from there to a Lakewalker encampment nearby.
Arriving they find five Lakewalker makers being controlled by the malice, which is using them to make mud-men, the servant creatures it transforms from animals into humanoid shape. Reluctantly Dag orders his men to leave them, since freeing them will alert the malice and reinforcements are too far away. They find and kill the malice, a patrolwoman stabbing it after Dag struggles with it barehanded.
Unfortunately this does not free the prisoners, who are still locked in place and creating the mud-men. Dag opens his senses to the makers to try to find a way to break the trance but is taken over himself and falls into a trance.
Back at the camp Fawn senses something wrong through her bracelet. She goes to Dar for help, explaining how they made the bracelets slightly differently to compensate for her not having groundsense, she realizes right away this was a mistake that he can use against them. She leaves and tells some others who immediately send a healer maker to check on Dag and his patrol.
Fawn rides out after them despite being told not to, when they arrive at the patrol the healer is unable to think of a way to free the entranced people. They explain to Fawn that there is a remnant of the malice inside Dag. Fawn reasons that means a sharing knife stabbed in non-fatally will kill the malice remnant but not Dag. It works and Dag and the others are released.
Despite their heroics the camp council on their marriage goes forward. Dar accuses Dag of invalidating the wedding by making Fawn's cord for her. After some discussion a vote is taken, but before it concludes Dag interrupts.
He tells them that the growing malice problem is partly their fault. Farmers and Lakewalkers distrust each other, and Lakewalkers keep this distance on purpose, afraid of repeating past mistakes when they ruled over the farmers by force. But the current system is flawed as well, it results in farmers being ignorant on how to deal with malices, many not even believing in them until its too late. He and Fawn will leave and travel the land, learning and teaching and trying to bridge the gap.
His brother tries one more gambit, managing to freeze his camp credit, meaning Dag and Fawn have nothing except their clothes and traveling gear. They pack up the next day and ride out south, Dag promising to show Fawn the sea.
Best part of story, including ending:
It expands a bit on the world building from the first book and sets the characters up to explore the rest of it, not a whole lot actually happens in this one though which is disappointing.
Best scene in story:
I liked when Dag first runs into the evilLakewalkers and the mud-men pit, it's a grim scene and you can see why they're so worried about the malice menace.
Opinion about the main character:
Fawn gets to show more spine in this book, standing up to Dag's mother and some others, it makes her more interesting than in the first book when she was intelligent but still a bit naive and in need of rescue.