A few months have passed since the events of Night Calls, and Allie--Alfreda Sorensson--is continuing her study of magic with her cousin, Marta Donaltsson, in the tiny frontier village of Cat Track Hollow, having progressed to the point of learning the ritual to contact Death. After a Christmas visit to her parents in Sun-Return, Allie's friend Idelia comes to visit Allie in Cat Track Hollow.
Allie is just thirteen, and Idelia is not much older, but it's the American frontier in the early 1800s, even if a different 1800s than our own history, and Idelia is hoping to be betrothed soon. That doesn't prevent her from enjoying a chance to flirt with Charles Hudson, son of a locally prominent family, and his cousin Erik, recently arrived from some long-separated branch of the Hudson family. Allie doesn't entirely see what all the fuss is about, even when Idelia tells her that Erik is more interested in her, Allie--although she's a bit more interested when Shaw Kristensson arrives to escort Idelia home to Sun-Return, and the two appear to regard each other as rivals. The last thing Shaw says to Allie before he and Idelia leave is a warning to be wary of the Hudson men, because their eyes are "like mirrors."
Allie doesn't quite know what to make of his advice, and in any case she has to stay on good terms with the Hudsons in such a tiny community. When Marta sends her off on an errand to undo a witch's spell souring a neighbor's milk, and Erik offers her a ride, she sees neither any way to refuse, or any reason. He offers her some cider--and she wakes up in a darkened storeroom nowhere near home.
What she slowly discovers is that she's been stolen by an ancient sorcerer-a worker of dark magic--so that he can bind her power to his and use her to help continue his immortality. Much of his extended family is not happy with the little kingdom he's made, bu they're bound too, and don't have any way out.
Allie's on her own, with nothing but her own incomplete training and her cunning, and only one possible ally--Death.
It's hard to express how much I enjoyed this book. Allie is smart, strong, loyal, and thirteen. That's a little older in her time and place than ours, but not much. She's just getting to find out who she'll be as an adult, when she's thrown into a terrible situation where she may be the only person who has the particular strengths, and freedom to use them, that might get her and others out alive, and kill an ancient horror that used to be human, but isn't anymore.
She doesn't just have to figure out the right thing to do; she has to stay strong and disciplined enough to do it, at an age when she should still have adults to protect and guide her.
This is all very, very well done. The characters are believable, the setting feels real, and the magic is convincing, with real limitations, rules, and costs.