While published first, this was the second Laurie J. Marks book I read, after Dancing Jack – a completely separate book that nonetheless uses the same cover theme of a woman’s face half-covered by a broken mask. I liked the two well enough that I went on to Marks’ Elemental Logic series, but didn’t find those so effective.
This book is full of interesting elements, but, frustratingly, Marks follows through on relatively few of them. While the protagonist is a dangerous, feared Separated One, she spends most of the book captured or abused. While she works for the Emperor’s elite corps, the Emperor shows up only briefly, at the end of the book.While the land is threatened by a restive dragon (the name applied to volcanic activity), the resolution to that risk is vague, to say the least, and mentioned largely in passing.
The core theme of the book is the idea of multiple persons in one body, and how they affect Jamil (and her other self, Alasil). While Marks does go to some effort to explain this, much of the explanation comes late and in fairly summary fashion. It’s never clear why Separated Ones are particularly useful to the Emperor, why they’ve been made into the corps they are, or why they were feared in the first place. Some of this, Marks might get away with, but not all of it, and not with so little of the story dedicated to exploring it. It’s an interesting effort that, in my view, didn’t really pay off. Instead, the book functions as a little more of an entertaining travelogue and exploration of Asakieiri culture.