Kharl strives for order and balance in his life and his work, and is one of the most respected craftsmen in his town. When he takes in a rape victim, however, his good deed leads to the destruction of everything he holds dear. The attacker turns out to be the son of the corrupt local ruler, and the girl Kharl rescues—a Blackstaffer mage from Recluse—is brutally killed in his own shop. With his wife executed for the murder and his sons deserting him, Kharl is forced to go on the run. He takes with him the mage's mysterious black staff, and with it experiences baffling new powers.

Strong supporting characters, vivid settings and a creative approach to mythos and magic enhance this richly detailed story. New readers should feel comfortable in Modesitt's world, where chaos and order reign in delicate balance, while series fans will welcome this return to familiar ground. As usual, Modesitt handles his world-building and characterization with ease. While knowledge of the previous books in the series will enhance the reading experience, it's not a requirement to enjoying this stand-alone tale. This newest entry in the Saga of Recluse is a gift to fans and new readers alike. (Apr., 640 pp., $27.95)
Reviewed by: 
Jen Talley Exum