Civil war on the world of the atevi seems to be over, but diplomatic disputes and political infighting continue unabated. Bren Cameron, brilliant human diplomat allied with the dominant Western Association, has just returned to the capital from his country home on the coast. But his sojourn was anything but restful. Attacked by rebel forces hoping to kill not only him, but also Ilisidi, the grandmother, and Cajieri, the young son, of Tabini-aiji, the powerful head of the Western Association, Bren and his resourceful associates have had a small war of their own to contend with. And this small war has ended with a daring proposition: that their longtime enemy Machigi, having been double-crossed by his allies and approached by Ilisidi with an offer of alliance, will sign a trade agreement with her Eastern district-a situation which has upset both the rebels and the loyal north.
But Bren’s accustomed role as negotiator for Tabini, Ilisidi, and their associates has suddenly changed radicallyfor Machigi, to Bren’s utter shock, has evoked an ancient law. Bren wears the white ribbon that for the last few centuries has identified the single official human-atevi negotiator. But before humans landed, this white ribbon represented a specialized negotiator between atevi adversariesa mediator who agreed to represent both sides with equal loyalty. These ancient mediators frequently ended up dead.
Now back in the capital, Bren finds that things are even more complicated than they previously were. He has now been put in the precaroius position of representing both Ilisidi and Machigi to the congress, and is becoming embroiled with both conservative and liberal factions. Meanwhile, Tabini-aiji is enraged to have lost the personal negotiator who has been his associate for decades, and is also jealous of any other party who stands to influence his young son.
But there are even more dangerous things afoot, for Bren’s bodyguard has warned him there is a crisis inside the immensely dangerous Assassins’ Guild, and that the recent dustup with the Shadow Guild, a rebellious faction within the Assassins, may be only the beginning.
"One of the best long-running SF series in existence.... Cherryh remains one of the most talented writers in the field."