At 328 pages, this book was a very fast read, and follows very closely behind the previous book. Bren has been sent to negotiate with Machigi, the young leader of the Marid, a region that has been causing trouble, and was responsible for the recent coup. His situation is complicated by not having any clear marching orders from Ilisidi on what he can offer Machigi and further complicated by two Guild assassins who had managed to get on the wrong side of everyone by being extremely stupid. Finally, the presence of Barb, who had been kidnapped by unknown persons at the end of the previous book, creates its own unique problems (mainly problems involving Jago wanting to scratch Barb’s eyes out and Barb being hopelessly stupid).
After an initially positive interview with Machigi and Bren deciding that Ilisidi wants him to solve the problem the Marid are having by proposing an alliance between Ilisidi’s eastern associates and the Marid, (which could potentially resolve various conflicts that had resulted in the Marid coup) leads the atevi lord to invoke an ancient negotiation custom. In the past, the white ribbon and clothes that had come to signify the human ambassador-translator had been the uniform of a special kind of (atevi) negotiator who negotiated based on manchi (loyalty or affinity) toward both sides of a conflict. Which is to say, they would argue with the best interests in mind for one side, and then the other, these negotiators were often notoriously short lived because generally speaking, atevi do not work that way.
Bren agrees to this, because that’s just the way he rolls.
While Bren is negotiating a three way “manchi” between Machigi, Ilisidi and her grandson Tabini, Cajeiri is learning important atevi life lessons as he works through some of the mistakes he has been making, and the mistakes caused by his new body guards. (The conflicts that Cajeiri had with two Assassin’s Guild body guards had mostly revolved in them screwing up multiple times and trying to boss him and his aishid around and ended with him sending them off after Barb who had gotten kidnapped because she and Toby and been looking for him. So, he’s both angry about Veijico and Lucasi obeying him AND for disobeying him, while being frustrated because their manchi is not to him.)
It turns out that Veijico and Lucasi were deeply confused by the way that Ilisidi and Bren’s households work together to solve problems. It didn’t help that they had been developing feelings of manchi toward Tabini and his household, but were now assigned to Cajeiri–who doesn’t act like a member of Tabini’s household even Cajeiri if Tabini’s son. So they were basically wandering around in a complete daze and causing problems with the organization of both households, which is a very bad thing, considering these two are supposed to be adults (which is yet another reason why Cajeiri is not happy with them) and members of the Assassin’s Guild.
Cajeiri manages to resolve the situation successfully, and Veijico learns the important life lesson of not underestimating Cajeiri. (Lucasi will learn a similar lesson from Bren.) He also gets a better handle on aspects of himself and his culture that he hadn’t been able to before. Bren is likewise successful with his efforts to negotiate with and represent Machigi to Tabini and Ilisidi (and the reverse) and Barb manages not to be a completely useless lump.