An orphaned boy escapes from the terrible dark cellar where he is apprenticed to grind spellstones, stones which can be shaped to wield great magical power. Escaping this shadowy world is punishable by death, but when captured the boy claims a stay of execution under an old and almost fogotten law. If he can reach the coast and flee the country within eight days, he will be free. But the boy's daring escape has also come to the attention of the most powerful man in the land, the Protector, and he believes there must be far more to the boy than his humble spellgrinding background. The Protector is convinced that the boy possesses some skill in earth magic, the magic which the Protector tried to irradicate and replace with the unnatural and unstable spellstone wizardry of his own. If this boy can wield earth magic, then maybe others can too. The boy must be captured at all costs - the Protector must learn what the boy knows, and whether he is the harbinger of the Protector's downfall. The chase begins.
The characters are vivid, the world NM Browne creates - the politics, religion, the landscapes are utterly convincing, and the many layers of sophistication to explore, are tied together brilliantly.