As the book opens, Myrren Kahliana and her friends, the elven ranger Shial and the Atma Knights Rahze and Kail, have come to Palidia, the titular "city of light" and majestic capitol of the lands that worship the god Nimrod, a deity of light, healing and knowledge. They're in pursuit of the senkata, a race of demons that stole the powerful ancient weapon called the Dark Heart and came to Palidia because it somehow offers the key to unlocking the relic's power.
On the other side of the world, in the lands of the god Vraxor, Raine Destin and his former enemy Leah Arlavan have become co-regents working together to rule the country. The job is turning out much harder than either of them expected: the priesthood of Vraxor, the real power in the country, is mysteriously secluded and not responding to messages. Without the priests' authority, the country is stretched to the breaking point trying to hold onto its conquered foreign possessions while battling an internal rebellion. In spite of everything Raine and Leah do to hold the nation together, neither the nobles nor the military will listen to them.
When Myrren and her friends seek the help of Palidia's democratic government to find and stop the senkata, they unwittingly become embroiled in a political struggle. A wave of immigration, driven by a famine in the east, is causing social unrest in the city, producing ghettos, crime and riots. One faction of the government, led by the civilian police, is trying to keep the peace and preserve democracy, while another, allied with the military, is urging martial law and the suspension of civil liberties. Ravidel Shand, the leader of Palidia's police force, is convinced that Myrren and her friends are agents of the other faction and that they're telling wild stories to justify a crackdown.
Just as Raine and Leah's situation is becoming desperate, the priests return from their seclusion, but all is not well. They've become divided into two hostile, irreconcilable factions over a theological argument arising from the events of the last book. When one faction plans to put an end to the rebellion by triggering a volcano underneath them, the schism boils violently over into the public eye. As the two sides draw apart and start mustering armies, Raine and Leah realize the nation is about to split apart in civil war, and there's nothing they can do to stop it...
This novel provides examples of:
- All Asians Know Martial Arts: Karah, who turns out to be from Kajin, which resembles China, just happens to know martial arts and easily beats up a couple of robbers.
- Authority in Name Only: The Sovereign is supposedly the absolute ruler of Vraxor's land, but Leah and Raine find out how limited their power is without the priesthood to back them up.
- Benched Hero: Shial, first from her pregnancy and then from being plunged into catatonic shock after her baby's death.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Karah, a seemingly harmless Palidian healer, is attacked by two robbers. She kills one, breaks the other's arm, then sets the broken bone and invites him to stay with her until he heals.
- Bigger on the Inside: A rare non-physical example. Artemus describes the "knot of memory" put into Myrren's head by the senkata as much bigger than it appears on from a surface scan. When he probes it, it nearly overwhelms him."It was like entering a room I thought was a closet and finding myself in a cathedral."
- Civil War
- The Coup: Each of Palidia's competing political factions accuses the other of plotting one. Eventually Ravidel Shand overthrows the senate, before a counter-coup by Senator Michal undoes this.
- Crisis of Faith: Myrren undergoes one after she sees her prayers to Vraxor go unanswered, and he does not come to aid his people, as she had been taught he would. She begins to question whether Vraxor even exists after this.
- Democracy Is Flawed
- Eat the Rich: The attitude of Palidia's lower classes and refugees toward the inner city's citizens and the government.
- General Failure: Commander Vairnath, chosen by the priests to lead Raine's side in the civil war, has a habit of suicidal attacks and other ill-advised tactics. Arvis killing him is the best thing that could happen to their side.
- God of Good: Nimrod, god of healing, light and knowledge, comes off as this, in start contrast with Vraxor. Mirren notes in reading his holy book how much nicer it is, speaking of people having rights and dignity. She's still left unsure that he exists though due to his long absence from Palidia.
- Gondor Calls for Aid: Myrren and her friends seek help from Palidia's army to defeat the senkata.
- Have You Seen My God?: Vraxor and Nimrod both appear to be absent at best. It's suggested they may not even exist by Myrren.
- Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Ravidel Shand is called to answer (false) charges before the senate of Palidia. So are the main characters at a later date.
- Irony: Ravidel Shand strongly opposes the senate appointing a temporary dictator to handle a crisis. Later, they appoint him to the position himself.
- Kangaroo Court: Ravidel Shand is tried by the senate of Palidia on charges he isn't notified of beforehand, making him unable to mount a defense. The prosecution witnesses are all criminals he arrested before, with some false stories of him brutalizing and extorting them, aside from the main characters (though even they have no hard evidence of any crimes he committed). All of his entirely valid objections are overruled by the judges. Needless to say, they convict him.
- Knight In Sour Armor: Ravidel Shand.
- Knight Templar: Rahze and other Atma Knights come off as leaning this way, convinced that everything they do is completely right and using tactics like assassinations or seizing control of governments when necessary. When they are recovering from attack, the neighboring countries, which resented their interference, take the opportunity to throw the "advisers" they had out then retaliate against them.
- Locked Room Mystery: The death of Thaeos el'Gaen.
- Maternity Crisis: Shial goes into labor at a very bad moment, when a riot is going on in the city, and the baby is stillborn when she's hurt on the way to the healer.
- Mood-Swinger: The normally unflappable Rahze acting this way is the other characters' first clue that something has gone seriously wrong with him.
- My Skull Runneth Over: An Ayin tries to touch the mind of a senkata. Unfortunately for him, he succeeds: the senkata have millennia of memories, and the overflow burns his brain out inside his skull. Also nearly happens to Artemus when he tries to read the "knot of memory" they left in Myrren's head.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The normally stoic Rahze showing emotion (mostly negative) is very worrying for his companions.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Kail and Shial's baby dies at birth. The trauma sends Shial into a catatonia.
- Outside-Context Problem: The senkata continue to curb-stomp everyone who interferes with them, including the magic-wielding Palidian army and even its special forces, the psychic Ayin.
- Plot Coupon: A villainous example. The senkata need to complete several alignments to unlock the power of the Dark Heart.
- Prevent the War: Raine and Leah try. They fail.
- Psychic Powers: The Ayin.
- Reluctant Ruler: Ravidel Shand accepts the title of dictator rather than let one of Michal's cronies get the job.
- Sleazy Politician: Palidia has plenty of them, especially Senator Michal.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Raine hits a priest using his during the battle in the catacombs.
- The Unmasqued World: The senkata reveal themselves to the people of Palidia.
- Urban Segregation: Palidia's inner city is wealthy, beautiful and peaceful. The outer city is a poor, dirty, crowded slum inhabited mostly by refugees and foreigners.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Because Myrren and Raine married under the constellation of the Broken Ring, everyone believes their marriage is doomed to end. They're right.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Rahze's companions react this way when he kills a defenseless man in cold blood for striking him.