After discovering a conspiracy at the heart of Sol, Damien Montgomery, Hand of Mars, is forced to balance rooting out the last of the conspiracy with being on trial for the deaths of two Hands. Not only is someone killing all of the remaining Keepers before Damien can find them, but the Council of the Protectorate is clearly far more interested in using Damien to chip away at the Mage-King's power than to judge his actions fairly.
And with a little push from the last of the Keepers, the Legatans are finally making their move to secede from the Protectorate—and destroy it to protect themselves.
This book provides examples of:
- The Chessmaster: Winton has been pulling the strings for the last few books. He ordered the bombardment of the alien ruins to set the Hands against the Keepers, used the destruction of the main Keeper archive to send all the Keepers to ground, pretended to defect to Legatus in order to access Legatan assets to hunt down the Keepers, which gave Mars the evidence it needed to charge Legatus with treason, which caused Legatus to secede from the Protectorate before they were ready. At the end of the book, Winton has both the last copy of the Keeper archives and a functional Legatan Link, both of which can be leaked to Mars at any time he feels appropriate.
- Deep Cover Agent: There was a Legatan Augment cell on Mars for twenty years before Winton had it activated, knowing it would expose Legatus at an inopportune moment. The agents thought there was something fishy about the orders they were being given, but Winton's agent genuinely was their new control, with all the appropriate codes and phrases.
- Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Winton was highly-placed in the Keepers, before he betrayed them to Legatus, but only to destroy both organizations for the good of the Protectorate.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Legatus has a lot in common with the Southern Confederacy, being a racist but powerful organization that is convinced that it is in the right due to people trying to force them not to be racist. There are even some implications at the end that the "core units" for their new ships involve enslaved mages.
- Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: The Council of the Protectorate invokes their right to censure Damien's actions, since he is one of the only Hands to ever kill another Hand, and the only person ever to kill two. They technically have no authority over him, but if they ask the Mage-King to force him to resign, tradition demands that the Mage-King do so. It quickly becomes apparent that it's a Kangaroo Court, and they're far more interested in using him to attack the Mage-King than actually get to the bottom of things.
- Hypocrite: The Legatan councilor goes on bizarre tangents when interrogating Damien, jumping to absurd conclusions and conspiracy theories about how Damien might have murdered the Hands for no reason. He snaps at Damien for far more reasonable conjecture, such as when Damien assumes that The Keeper of Oaths was Hand Octavian's ship (Octavian commissioned it, oversaw its construction, and hasn't been seen since it was destroyed).
- I Have Many Names:
- "Winton" hasn't used his real name in decades, though he admits that one is relatively close to it. The Legatans know him as "Partisan."
- Kent Riley, in his status as Winton's successor, is the same. The Legatans know him as Kay, while the Belters know him as Nemesis Sol.
- I Reject Your Reality:
- When the Legatan councilor is confronted with blatant evidence of his planet's treason, he honestly believes that it was all forged.
- When Legatus secedes, the Mage-King says he will not force the Mages Guild to send anyone to Legatus without protection. The Legatan president calls this economic warfare, ignoring the fact that any mages in Legatan space would be in genuine danger.
- Protectorate: While "the Protectorate" is a nation, "the Mage-King's Protectorate" is all of humanity, even if they secede. Currently the distinction is unimportant since every human world exists under the Protectorate, but with the secession of Legatus, it's going to become relevant.
- Red Baron: The Hand who has seen the most military action is generally labeled "the Sword of Mars." For a while, Hand Lomond held the title (not least because of his rather blunt approach to problems), but Damien received the title after the events of the last book.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Most of the Council is extremely appreciative of the fact that Damien nearly died twice saving them, even after they were going to vote to force him to resign. The Legatan councilor is not, and appears to think the whole thing was some sort of bizarre False Flag Operation to make Mars look good.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Winton's plan starts with murdering hundreds of people with no regard for collateral damage and only gets worse from there—but it's all to keep the Protectorate and the human race strong by forcing Legatus to move before it is ready.