Avry evades the clutches of a delusional would-be King and a fanatical Priestess, while discovering the cure to a plague that has wracked the kingdom. Avry is a healer magician who has been on the run from authorities since the healers have been labeled traitors to the King due to their refusal to heal people suffering from the plague. The plague has killed half the population of the Fifteen Kingdoms and the survivors that are left have allied themselves with competing factions that are warring to be the next ruler. The story begins with Avry feeling pity for an ailing child and healing the child by absorbing the sickness into herself. Healers have the ability to heal themselves very fast, and so they can transfer wounds and illnesses onto themselves to heal their patients, but are often incapacitated for a few hours or days, after, depending on the severity of the wound or illness. After she saves the child, the child's father reports her to bounty hunters because he hates healers since he blames healers for why millions of people have died from the plague. Apparently there is also a bounty for the capture and execution of healers - a bounty set out by a man named Tohon, who is one of the wealthy and powerful people vying for the throne.
Just before Avry is executed, she is saved by another man named Kerrick. Kerrick tells her that he is in sore need of healer to help heal a dear friend of his. He brings Avry to his secret hideout in a cave in the woods where she meets the other members of his band - Belen, Quain, Loren and Flea. At first, Avry fits in companionably with the new group. But this doesn't last long. Kerrick reveals that his friend is suffering from the plague and has been put into a magical stasis to prevent further deterioration of his health until a healer is found. Avry learns that this friend is none other than Prince Ryne, who was to be king of the Fifteen Kingdoms until he mysteriously disappeared during the height of the plague's devastation. Avry refuses to heal Prince Ryne since she blames Prince Ryne for the death of many of her loved ones, too, as there are rumors that it was Prince Ryne who began to spread the hatred towards healers. Kerrick is angry, as to him, these are all rumors. He officially keeps her as a prisoner, making sure there are always guards watching her and preventing her escape.
One day, Avry finds an opportunity to escape but she is quickly caught by mercenaries roaming the woods. Kerrick comes to rescue her and she learns that he is a forest magician which allows him to control elements of the forest and blend in if need be. When the mercenaries catch up with Kerrick and his group, Belen gets severely injured and, even though Kerrick didn't want Avry to risk her life, Avry takes on Belen's injuries to heal him. Kerrick then takes Avry to a trusted woman's home to allow her time to heal. There, Avry learns that Tohon sends out mercenaries to kill healers because he doesn't want Kerrick to get his hands on a healer that he can use to heal Prince Ryne, his competitor for the throne. This convinces Avry to finally promise Kerrick that she will heal Prince Ryne.
Once Avry is fully healed, they make their way to the Nine Mountains where Prince Ryne's body is hidden. In order to get there, they must evade mercenaries and walk through fields of Death Lilies. There are two types of Lilies populating this world - Death Lilies that eat people by swallowing them whole and Peace Lilies that don't. Avry saves Flea's life by pushing him aside just as a Death Lily tries to eat him. In her moments inside the Death Lily, she is pricked by the Death Lily's poison stings and she feels a brief moment of connection with the Lily, as if she can read it's intentions. Then, mysteriously, the Death Lily spits her out. The Death Lily's toxin doesn't seem to harm her and everyone is relieved.
One day, the group arrive at a market to pick up supplies and Avry learns that her sister, Noelle, who she thought had died from the plague, has been conscripted by the Priestess Estrid, who is also amassing an army to conquer the Fifteen Kingdoms. Kerrick agrees to help Avry save her sister. During the night, they find Noelle, who feels betrayed that Avry had not come looking for her sooner. As a result, Noelle doesn't want to leave with Avry, preferring to work for Estrid. A few days later, the group is confronted by Jael, who turns out to be Kerrick's ex-betrothed - a woman who was betrothed to Kerrick but broke off the engagement to marry the Priestess of Estrid's son, instead. Jael captures Avry and asks Avry to join the Priestess' cause. Because Avry heals the Priestess' granddaughter without demanding anything in return (not even demanding her freedom), the Priestess is impressed and decides to let her go, with the promise that she will return after she has fulfilled her promise to Kerrick.
After Avry is released, her and Kerrick's group are again ambushed by Jael, who didn't like the Priestess' decision to let Avry go. Jael, who is an air magician, takes the "breath" out of everyone's lungs so that they are suffocated. Avry connects her healing magic with Kerrick's forest magic to resist Jael's magic. Unfortunately, Flea, who was little and frail, did not survive the attack.
After they bury Flea, they continue towards the Nine Mountains. On their way there, Avry discovers an abandoned underground hideout that used to owned by the Healer's Guild. Avry learns that the Healer's Guild had been doing research to find a cure against the Death Lily's toxin and that they may have inadvertently created the plague that destroyed half the kingdom.
Soon after this discovery, Avry is kidnapped by a reanimated corpse which takes her to Tohon. Tohon turns out to be quite the dashing fellow, who immediately tries to seduce Avry into joining him and his cause. He gives Avry a chance to make up her mind as he doesn't want to force her. When Avry and Kerrick's group arrive at Prince Ryne's hideout, they find all the guards killed and Prince Ryne's body, gone, indicating that Tohon beat them to their hideout. Only the Death magician, Sepp, is left, wounded and almost dead. Sepp had been using his magic to keep Prince Ryne in stasis. Avry comes up with the plan to willingly go to Tohon and gain his trust so that she can find out where he is keeping Prince Ryne. She tells Kerrick that in the meantime, he should join forces with Estrid and march on Tohon so that there is a distraction which will allow Sepp to sneak into the castle and do his magic to keep Prince Ryne's disease from progressing.
After Avry is captured by Tohon again, he gives her the job of running the infirmary and healing his soldiers. Avry discovers that Tohon is doing experiments involving the injection of Death Lily toxin into young children to create Healers. One day, Avry finds out that Tohon is set to leave his castle for a few days to deal with trouble caused by Estrid. That night, Sepp is supposed to sneak in and help her get Prince Ryne out of the castle. However, Avry discovers that she has been betrayed and that Sepp was working with Tohon all along. Just when things look grim, Kerrick appears and helps Avry smuggle Prince Ryne out of the castle. Avry heals Prince Ryne and tells Kerrick that she plans staying behind to free Tohon's captive children. Kerrick uses his forest magic to disable Tohon and Sepp with vines while Avry leads the children to safety.
Avry and Kerrick spend the last few days of Avry's life together, as she has taken on Prince Ryne's plague and will soon die. By the third stage, when Avry feels like the pain is intolerable, she asks Kerrick to let her be taken by a Death Lily and end her life, now. Kerrick obliges. Strangely enough, instead of a Death Lily taking her up, a Peace Lily engulfs her. While inside the Peace Lily, Avry again connects with the plant and feels like it has blessed her for her healing abilities. The Peace Lily then spits her out whole and well again. The story ends with Kerrick and Avry hopeful that there may be a solution to the plague.
Best part of story, including ending:
I think Maria V. Snyder's description of the healing magic is very creative. Oftentimes, with magical systems in fantasy, there aren't any clear drawbacks to using the magical abilities and magic just seems like a gift blessed to a handful of people. In this story, there is a major drawback to being a healer as you take on the pain and the illnesses in order to heal someone. I found this magical system of healing realistic and more satisfying than other healing systems described in some other fantasy books.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was the scene where Avry plays hide and seek in the woods with Kerrick, Belen, Loren, Quain and Flea. While they were travelling in the forest and headed towards the Nine Mountains, Kerrick wanted to train Avry in the art of Forest Magic (things like how to sense things moving in the forest and how to blend into the forest). Hide and seek was just another way Avry could test out her newly learned abilities to find the others. It was funny that each time Avry found one of the members of the band, they would say that she won't be able to find Kerrick. It was only because Avry slightly "cheated" by sensing Kerrick's magic that she ends up being able to find him. I found these scenes amusing and light-hearted.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Avry always had the compassion to heal another, even when she could have used her healing powers as a bargaining chip. She healed the Priestess' granddaughter even though technically, she was the Priestess' prisoner at the time and could have bargained for her release. She healed sick children even when their parents turned out to be ungrateful and turned her into authorities in exchange for bounty. I admire that she didn't compromise her sense of ethics and her compassion, even to save her own skin.