Philomel, Aug 7 2012, $18.99
In 1404 in the Scottish Highlands, family friend Guard Alistair Hart arrives to collect a debt Lord Morrow owes to his group Conatus. To pay for healing his wife, Morrow hands over his sixteen year old daughter Ember to Hart who escorts her to where she will be trained as a Guard swordswoman working for Conatus.
Ember always enjoyed swords as her stuffed kirtle recently learned; so she relishes that aspect of her training. She also begins to learn about magic and the darkness taking over the world. Her teacher brooding Barrow Hess demands more and more of her as he seems never satisfied with her accomplishments. Though Ember wishes he would encourage her, she falls in love with her mentor. However, evidence mounts that one of the Conatus leaders Eira deploys dark magic. Ember and Barrow know they need to destroy her and her followers though the temptation is to join Eira in the nether realm.
The prequel to the Nightshade Trilogy is an entertaining alternate historical fantasy that focuses on the rise of the Keepers even keeping the expected romance limited. Ember is a superb protagonist who is a strong person able to team with others or go solo; she makes the storyline fun to read. Although fans of the saga know the ultimate outcome a few centuries into the future, young adult readers will enjoy the chronicle of how it all began for the Keepers.