Themes and Characters
An important element of the novel is the strong sense of duty felt by both Stalwart and Emerald. Wart is already a competent minstrel, but he feels that it would be far more worthy to defend the King's peace as a knight. Emerald's sense of duty comes more from her training to perceive the balance of the natural elements, and from her father's lingering death while in the care of sorcerers who may have kept him alive until her family was bankrupt.
Multiple motives and choices make each character well-rounded and complex. Wart consents to search for the conspirators who create monsters and threaten the King, even though he knows that he may be killed. Emerald discovers that she is the bait in the trap after she is expelled and sent home on a slow cart. Her fury is only at being drafted without her knowledge and kept ignorant of her danger, not at the search itself.
The masterminds behind the search are old Blades, who regard these seventeen-year-old trainees as young soldiers in a terrible war that has cost the lives of dozens of Blades, White Sisters and civilians. Even if both young lives are forfeit, the terrorist sorcerers must be tracked to a secret lair. The old Blades know they are manipulating children when they arrange to expel a girl who is the only support for her crippled mother, and recruit a beardless boy who has no family but the Blades, but it is done anyway. Four months' more training would only give the conspirators further opportunities to attack the King and court; additional information would only put Wart or Emerald in more danger from torture by sorcerers who can detect lies.
No motive is simple, and no choice is made without consequences.