This is the first in a new series from this well-loved author. It is a fantasy set in a world where disease is rampaging among the population, but medicine is in limited supply and the quantities are controlled by the ruling elite. Tessa is an apothecary who tries to help as many people as possible, as she has previously lost both of her parents to the disease. She has a hidden life as an outlaw, working with a shadowy masked person known as Weston; their purpose is to retrieve as much medicine as possible and get it out to the ordinary population who cannot afford the exorbitant prices usually charged by the authorities. However, Weston and Tessa are hiding their own personal secrets and when they are found out, it creates huge new challenges and dangers for them and those around them.
The story is told from two perspectives, the first is Tess herself and the second is Corrick, the king’s younger brother, who also holds the post of ‘King’s Justice’, which means he administers the law in any way possible in order to maintain the king’s rule and prevent anarchy. We see how a country can be reduced to an autocratic tyranny when the people are threatened and find their lives at risk from circumstances outside their control. This can also lead to the manipulation of the system by the unscrupulous, which in turn leads to a call for revolution. Alongside this part of the story, we have the growing relationship between Tessa and Weston, as they gradually unravel the secrets they are keeping. It is true to say that this story brings lots of surprises and most of the characters have sides that we don’t expect; basically, it does not always pay to think you know someone, even if they are close to you. In her notes at the end, the author has acknowledged that the book came out during the current pandemic, but it was initially written prior to these events, so we can see that life often imitates art. Thankfully we have not seen a total breakdown of law and order, but there have been tensions. The intended audience with love this story with its romance, adventure, intrigue and sense of fantasy.