Things are not going well with everything in turmoil. In Lowmeer Princess Mathilda is now the unwilling wife of the Regal. She is also a mother with a dreadful secret that puts both her and her child at risk and her attempts to protect them both lead her down an evermore dangerous path. Meanwhile, instead of Sorrel Redwing heading to the safety of the Pontifect's care, magic has forced her and her charge, baby Piper, on board a ship bound for the Spicerie and Summer Seas with the witan, Saker, and the Lascar, Ardhi. At the same time, the Pontifect's agent, proctor Gerelda Brantheld, has rescued Peri, a boy who has had an appalling loss but who has been granted a witchery that will be vital if they are ever to fight the on-coming danger of the army being recruited theoretically to protect Va but which is in fact corrupted by evil. There are whispers of sorcery and rumours that A'Va is stirring with devil-kin being born and the illness known as the Horned Death still breaking out and this is just in Ardrone and Lowmeer. The lands of the Summer Seas seem ripe for plundering and the Lowmian fleet is coming if they can evade the Ardronese privateers. Magic - good and bad - is everywhere. Added to this are the upheaval in Ardrone where religious conflict is being stirred up, the on-going tensions between Lowmeer and Ardrone with all its political ramifications and the machinations of Prime Valerian Fox, a religious leader with his own agenda. There is a lot happening but it is never confusing if frequently unexpected.
I found this book engrossing. It is full of cleverly detailed world building making it truly believable. The conflict between trading and colonising nations that see themselves as entitled to take what they want and the people they seek to exploit is one that we are all familiar with and this is one of the themes of this book. The Lowmians consider they are entitled to the spices and other treasures of the islands but their lack of understanding and respect for other beliefs and cultures and their failure to recognise the power of those beliefs precipitates much of what transpires. There are questions raised about the status of women, too - Princess Mathilda has effectively been sold off to secure a political settlement with Lowmeer - but none of this is heavy handed preaching. It grows organically from the story where we see how things affect individuals and societies and the consequences that flow from them.
The author gives us a wide range of well rounded characters whose motivations, good or bad, are believable. People make mistakes, they do things for what they believe are good reasons (but sometimes they are mistaken) and they grow and change. Saker is a perfect example. His decision to use magic often seems the only one possible but his particular witchery means that the results can conflict with everything he believes in and this leaves him questioning his choices. He's not the only one of course. Ardhi, the original owner of the dagger of the title, and Lord Juster, the Ardronese privateer, not to mention the heir to the Ardronese throne, Mathilda's brother, Prince Ryce, and the women like the Pontifect, Gerelda Brantheld and Sorrel, all have to learn and adapt as those things dear to them come under threat.
Of the female characters, Sorrel is still one of my favourites. She is intelligent and questions everything even when forces beyond her control lead her away from her intended path. Strong and determined, she fights to protect her charge using her witchery instead of a sword. It's a pleasure to see strong older women like the Pontifect and Gerelda, too, playing a major part or in positions of power.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. In fact I'm eagerly waiting for the next book. If you missed The Lascar's Dagger, it and The Dagger's Path are available from various booksellers including Amazon. Both are published by Orbit with The Dagger's Path having been released in January 2015.
Glenda Larke's website is here and she is also on Facebook.