In this first volume of a series, Pierce returns to the world and characters she introduced in her Song of the Lioness fantasy epic. Here, she tells the story of Daine, a 13-year-old orphaned girl with an extraordinary talent for communicating with animals. The teenager is swept up in the first skirmishes of a war, and is forced to master her fears and learn how to marshall her magical abilities. Trying to make the sequel to four previous novels stand on its own is no mean feat, and Pierce has a lot of exposition to relate. By telling the story through Daine's eyes, she allows new readers a chance to "catch up" on who's who along with her heroine. Although this device proves effective for the most part, some of the scenes are a little bewildering. However, Pierce's inventive descriptions of Daine's apprenticeship as a Mage, her riveting battles with griffins, dragons and other monsters, and her delightful, egalitarian ideals more than compensate for this minor flaw.