By Ian Irvine

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The final battle — the ultimate price.

The once beautiful land of Hightspall is being carved up by warring armies led by figures from out of legend. One army is headed by the charismatic brute, Axil Grandys, and the other by Lyf, resurrected sorcerer-king and Axil’s ancient nemesis.

Only the escaped slave Tali and her unreliable magic stand in their way — but Tali’s gift grows more painful every time she uses it. As the armies converge on the fateful peak of Touchstone, Tali and her ally Rix must find a way to overcome Lyf and prevent Axil from using the Three Spells that will destroy Hightspall forever.

Justice is the shattering finale to Ian Irvine’s fantasy epic Tainted Realm trilogy.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of The Crown Tower

A Preview of Malice

Orbit Newsletter

Copyright Page

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Benn: Glynnie's little brother, lost somewhere in Caulderon.

Errek First-King: The legendary inventor of king-magery, recreated as a spirit by Lyf.

Five Heroes, the: The Five Herovians who killed Lyf two thousand years ago. They were subsequently turned to opal and cast into the Abysm, but recently escaped and are bent on turning Hightspall into their Promised Realm.

Glynnie: A heroic maidservant who rescued Rix from Grandys. Benn's big sister.

Grandys, Axil: The first of the Five Heroes and the founder of Hightspall. A brilliant, brutal leader.

Grasbee: A general of Hightspall's army, sacked for incompetence.

Grolik: A gauntling in Lyf's service.

Holm: Tali's friend, an old man who was once a brilliant surgeon.

Hramm: Lyf's supreme commander, an acerbic, impatient man.

Jackery: A highly competent sergeant in Hightspall's army.

Krebb: A colonel of Hightspall's army, sacked by the former chancellor.

Libbens: A choleric general, sacked by the former chancellor.

Lirriam: One of the Five Heroes, an enigmatic woman and Grandys' bitter rival.

Lyf: Last king of Cythe, murdered by the Five Heroes. Now reincarnated from his ghostly wrythen, Lyf leads the Cythonian people in a war of vengeance.

Maloch: An enchanted sword wielded by Axil Grandys.

Moley Gryle: Lyf's adjutant, a striking young woman and a brilliant intuit.

Nuddell: Rix's sergeant at Fortress Garramide.

Radl: Commander of the Pale army. She has been Tali's enemy since childhood.

Rannilt: A little slave girl who escaped with Tali. She wants to be a healer.

Rix: Disgraced former heir to the vast estates of House Ricinus, now Lord of Fortress Garramide and reluctant commander of Hightspall's army. Also known as Deadhand.

Rufuss: One of the Five Heroes, a tall, gaunt man full of murderous rage.

Syrten: One of the Five Heroes, an inarticulate, golem-like warrior.

Tali: An escaped Pale slave who returned to Cython and led the slaves' rebellion. She loved Tobry.

Thom: A wood boy in Fortress Garramide.

Tobry: Rix's closest friend, now a mad, dying shifter.

Tonklin: A loyal sergeant, rescued from a crevasse by Rix.

Wil: A blind Cythonian, addicted to sniffing alkoyl, who interfered with the Engine.

Wyverin, the: A legendary beast whose appearance is said to forecast the doom of Hightspall.

Yulia: One of the Five Heroes, she is sick with guilt at all they have done.


In the underground city of Cython, a simple youth called WIL reads the forbidden but incomplete iron book, The Consolation of Vengeance. It burns his eyes out, but he also has a foreseeing about the one, a slave girl of the Pale who will grow up to challenge the Cythonians' legendary leader, King LYF. Wil should have told the matriarchs where to find the one, so they could have her killed, but he lies, and other girls are killed in her place.

Lyf, the creator of the iron book, was murdered two thousand years ago but still exists as a bodiless wrythen bent on two things: restoring his dispossessed people to the land above, and taking revenge on the Hightspallers who killed him and drove his people out.

TALI, an eight-year-old slave girl in Cython, is led, along with her mother IUSIA, on a secret escape route by TINYHEAD, a Cythonian. But Tinyhead betrays them, and in a gloomy cellar Iusia is caught by a masked man and woman. Though Tali has a gift for magery, she is unable to summon it in her mother's defence—using magery in Cython means instant death and she has been taught to suppress it.

While the terrified child watches from hiding, Iusia's captors hack something out of her head, killing her, then take her blood. After they have gone, Tali sees a richly dressed boy hiding on the other side of the cellar. He flees and she returns to her slave's existence, swearing to bring the killers to justice when she grows up.

In a cavern deep in the mountains, Lyf's wrythen is trying to bring his two-thousand-year-old plan to completion. To do so he has to recover his king-magery, the mighty healing force that was lost when he was murdered by the legendary Five Heroes at the behest of their leader, AXIL GRANDYS. But first, Lyf needs all five ebony pearls, powerful magical artefacts that only form in the heads of rare, female Pale slaves.

Lacking a body, Lyf cannot take the pearls himself, and long ago he forced the sorcerer DEROE to get each new pearl for him, possessing Deroe to make sure he complied. To escape the agony of possession, Deroe employed LORD and LADY RICINUS to take the second, third and fourth pearls for him, hoping thereby to drive Lyf out and kill him. For this service, Deroe made House Ricinus fabulously wealthy.

Now Lyf forms a long-term plan to get the fifth pearl—the master pearl—by compelling the Ricinus's son and heir, RIXIUM (RIX), via the great heatstone in Rix's room, to take the master pearl once the host slave girl comes of age.

Tali turns eighteen, discovers that three more of her direct female ancestors were also murdered at a young age, and knows that the killers will soon be hunting her. She has to escape Cython but does not know how—the Pale have been enslaved for a thousand years and in that time none have ever escaped. At the same time she begins to have terrible headaches, as though something is grinding against the inside of her skull. The master pearl is waking (though she does not know they exist).

The pain accentuates Tali's rebellious streak, but her attack on a vicious guard results in the execution of her only friend, MIA, by their overseer, BANJ. Stricken with guilt, Tali swears that one day she will save her enslaved people. Then she realises that Tinyhead is hunting her.

Tali also discovers that the Cythonians, who are masters of alchymie and have invented many alchymical weapons, are preparing to go to war on Hightspall, the land above, where Tali's ancestors came from. Tali feels sure that Hightspall is unprepared; she has to warn her country.

With the aid of a ten-year-old slave girl, RANNILT, who has an unfathomable gift for magery, and MIMOY, a foul-mouthed old woman who turns out to be Tali's ancestor, she escapes, beating Tinyhead and killing Banj with an uncontrollable burst of magery. For that crime, if the Cythonians catch her, she will suffer the most terrible death they can devise. Mimoy dies, but Tali and Rannilt get away and Tali sets off across Hightspall to try and find clues to the killers' identities.

In Palace Ricinus, Rix is about to come of age. Soon he will inherit one of the greatest fortunes in Hightspall. He's a trained warrior as well as a gifted artist, though some of his paintings are disturbingly divinatory. But Rix is troubled by nightmares about doom and destruction, the fall of his house, and his role in a future, terrible murder. He is supposed to be completing his father's portrait for Lord Ricinus's Honouring, which Rix's social-climbing mother, Lady Ricinus, plans to use to raise House Ricinus to the First Circle, the highest families of all.

Rix can't bear the hypocrisy, for his father is a disgusting drunk and his mother a cold, merciless woman without a good word for anyone. The Honouring will be a travesty and he has to get away. With his reckless and impoverished friend TOBRY, Rix goes off to the mountains, hunting, in the middle of the night. He takes MALOCH, a battered old sword that bears a protective enchantment, though on the way Maloch seems to be leading him.

Rix and Tobry are attacked by a caitsthe, a huge shifter cat, and only a brilliant attack by Rix drives the injured beast off. They pursue it into a deep cavern, but are forced to flee from Lyf's malevolent wrythen. Tobry is knocked out by a rock fall; Rix, after an almighty battle, kills the caitsthe but is immediately attacked by the wrythen, which is trying to possess Tobry. On driving it off, Rix discovers that the wrythen is afraid of Maloch, which it recognises as the sword Axil Grandys used to hack Lyf's feet off before he was murdered two thousand years ago.

Rix carries Tobry to safety. On the way home they realise that preparations they saw in the wrythen's caverns presage war, and head across the thermal wasteland of the Seethings to check on the Rat Hole, a shaft up to the surface used by the Cythonians.

Rix and Tobry encounter Tali and Rannilt in the Seethings. Tobry is immediately smitten by Tali, but Rix and Tali clash and, when he recognises her as a Pale, he rides off in a fury—in Hightspall the Pale are regarded as traitors for serving the enemy. Tobry apologises and goes after him. Once they're gone, Tali has a blinding revelation—Rix is the boy she saw in the murder cellar! He's her best clue to the killers' identities, and she has to go after him, though how can she ever trust him?

Tali's escape causes the Cythonians to bring forward their plans for war. They attack Hightspall, using devastating chymical weaponry and causing great destruction. Hordes of shifters go on the rampage; the great volcanoes known as the Vomits erupt violently; and from across the sea the ice sheets are closing in. It feels as though the land is rising up to cast the Hightspallers out.

After a series of captures, escapes and recaptures, Rix and Tobry rescue Tali from her Cythonian hunters, though even now Tali isn't sure she can trust Rix. She tells him about her mother's murder but he doesn't react—it's as if he doesn't remember, though she knows he was there.

Rix returns to the palace, in the capital city of Caulderon, to complete his father's portrait, a painting he loathes. Lady Ricinus is furious that he has neglected his responsibilities. The portrait must be completed by the Honouring—the future of House Ricinus depends on it—and she confines Rix to his rooms until it's completed.

Rix's nightmares and premonitions of doom return, stronger than ever. He works on the portrait as long as he can bear it, and also begins another painting that comes from his subconscious—a haunting cellar, a woman laid on a bench, two people standing by her and a wide-eyed child in the background. He can't paint their faces, nor work out why the scene fills him with such horror, for in a childhood illness he lost all memory of the murder he witnessed.

Tobry brings Tali and Rannilt to Caulderon and hides them, knowing that Lady Ricinus would never allow a despised Pale in the palace. Tali is also being hunted by the CHANCELLOR, the supreme ruler of Hightspall, since her knowledge of Cython will be invaluable to the war. Tali sneaks into the palace anyway; she has to pursue the clues to her mother's murder.

The Cythonians besiege Caulderon. Rix, more and more disturbed at what he's painting, goes to see his old nurse, LUZIA, to ask her about his childhood, but finds her murdered, presumably to stop her talking to him. Rix is shattered. And Rannilt, whom Tobry had left with Luzia, is missing.

Tali gets into Rix's rooms and sees the painting, which she recognises instantly as the murder scene. How can Rix not know? He goes on with it, working unconsciously, and to his horror Tali's face appears on the prone woman. It's his nightmare made real; is Tali the woman he's doomed to kill? He fights the compulsion with all he has.

The wrythen is pleased. His plans are finally back on track; soon he will tighten the compulsion on Rix and force him to cut the master pearl from Tali. Then he will dispose of Deroe and, with all five pearls, recover king-magery and exact his vengeance.

The war is going badly for Hightspall; the Cythonians are winning everywhere. The chancellor orders Palace Ricinus searched for Tali, and gives Lady Ricinus an ultimatum—find Tali, or House Ricinus will be crushed. She knows he'll do it, too, because the chancellor has always despised House Ricinus. Lady Ricinus plots the worst treason of all—to have him killed.

Rix and Tali discover the plot, separately, and Rix is torn by an impossible conflict. If he does not betray his mother, he too will be guilty of treason. But if he does betray her, how could he live with himself?

Rix redoes the cellar painting and to his horror, this time he sees what the two unidentified people by the bench are doing—gouging an ebony pearl from the dying woman's head. Then Tali confronts Rix, screaming at him, "That's my mother. You were there! How can you not know? And now Lyf wants you to do it to me."

The chancellor is an unpleasant, vengeful man but Tali can't stand by and see him killed. She tells him about the treason, though he does not say what he plans to do about it. He also holds Rannilt and has been interrogating her for her knowledge of Cython.

The following day Rix, tormented by his own conflict, also visits the chancellor, who forces the truth out of him. He throws Rix out, saying that he could never trust a man who would betray his own mother.

Rix, now utterly dishonoured, feels that he has only one way out. He completes his father's portrait then, in a drunken frenzy, repaints the cellar picture from scratch. But this time he paints the faces of the killers—Lord and Lady Ricinus. House Ricinus, and everything Rix has, comes from the depraved, murderous trade in ebony pearls. He staggers up to the roof to cast himself off to his death, but slips, knocks himself out and only recovers as the Honouring is beginning. He'd promised to be there, and he plans to do this last duty before he dies.

Tali, in disguise, goes to the Honouring Ball with Tobry, and begins to feel that she loves him, though she tries to deny it. At the Honouring, Lady Ricinus's triumph is complete—the forged documents she presents are verified and House Ricinus is accepted into the First Circle. Then Rix unveils his portrait of Lord Ricinus, but to his horror someone has switched paintings, and he actually reveals the painting of the murder cellar, clearly showing both the killers' faces and the ebony pearl. The chancellor smiles; he's about to have his revenge.

Lady Ricinus is defiant, blaming everyone else, even her own son, but Lord Ricinus can't take any more. He confesses everything, revealing that Rix was taken down to witness the murder as a boy, to make him complicit in the family business. And they took Iusia's blood because it has healing powers.

House Ricinus is condemned, its assets confiscated, the servants cast out and the disembowelled lord and lady hung from the front gates. Rix survives because he's not yet of age, but is universally condemned for betraying his parents.

GLYNNIE, a young maidservant, begs refuge for herself and her little brother, BENN, and Rix takes them in. That night the three Vomits erupt at once, a sign of the fall of nations. Rix is plagued by murderous nightmares, sent by Lyf, and plans to take his own life in the morning. A colossal eruption causes a tidal wave in Lake Fumerous which washes the city walls away. Caulderon is defenceless and now the enemy attack.

Rix prepares to ride out and die. Tali begs Tobry to stop him, saying that she loves Rix, though this is a lie—she actually loves Tobry. Tobry, in despair, stops Rix.

Tali knows Lyf is coming, and Deroe too; he has been lured to the cellar by Lyf in pursuit of the master pearl. Tali plans to seize the three pearls from Deroe, but he turns the tables on her and prepares to cut out her master pearl for himself.

Lyf wakes the compulsion, using the heatstone, and forces Rix to go to the cellar to kill Tali. Rix fights the compulsion but cannot defeat it. Tobry realises what is happening and smashes the heat-stone, which lets off a tremendous blast of force that knocks everyone down and frees Rix from the compulsion.

A horde of shifters attack, led by a caitsthe. The only way the allies can be saved is for Tobry to face his worst nightmare—to become a caitsthe himself. In despair at losing Tali, he does so and manages to hold the attack off.

During a battle in the cellar, Lyf's faithful servant, Tinyhead, goes for Rix, but Wil, now hopelessly addled from sniffing the alchymical solvent alkoyl to assuage his guilt, strangles Tinyhead and flees with Lyf's iron book.

Tali recovers and seizes the three pearls from Deroe, but Lyf breaks through and holds the lives of Rix, Tobry, Glynnie and Benn in his hands. Tali can still execute Lyf and gain justice for her mother, but only at the cost of her friends' lives. She can't do it. Lyf kills Deroe, seizes the three pearls to add to his own and calls his armies to attack the city.

They storm Caulderon and soon the city is doomed; Tali, Rix, Tobry, Rannilt, Glynnie and Benn are trapped in the palace. They are at the top of Rix's tower when the chancellor appears and orders Tobry killed, because he's a shifter. Tali realises that her own healing blood might be able to turn him back, and it seems to work. But the vengeful chancellor, who has always hated Tobry, has him cast off the tower to his death. He orders Rix's right hand severed with Maloch, then takes Tali and Rannilt prisoner for their healing blood, and flees Caulderon.


Glynnie and Benn help Rix down into the labyrinthine passages below the palace. Rix is weak; despairing; dazed. In a dark crypt, Glynnie attempts to rejoin his amputated hand, using the last of Tali's healing blood. To her surprise and Rix's consternation, it works. He does a drawing on the wall of the crypt, however it shows himself and Tali about to murder Tobry. Rix's paintings have often been prophetic but what can this one mean—Tobry is dead.

Rix's reattached hand goes dead. They are pursued by Lyf's troops and a horde of jackal shifters. Eventually they find a submerged drainage channel and Rix takes Glynnie down into the lake, but when he returns for Benn there is no sign of him. He's either been captured or has drowned. Glynnie is distraught. Rix and Glynnie fight the enemy on the lake, and flee. Rix promises that one day they will return and try to find Benn.

Glynnie has fallen for Rix and feels that, now he's been dispossessed, the imbalance between lord and servant has been reduced; that she has a chance. But Rix still sees her as a girl who needs protection. He plans to find a safe house to leave her, then build an army and lead the fight-back for Hightspall; he feels sure he's going to die in this war. Glynnie is outraged by his presumption; she feels betrayed and lost.

But no safe house can be found, and Rix's enchanted sword, Maloch, points the way to the one place Rix still owns—Fortress Garramide, on a rain-drenched plateau high in the rugged Nandeloch Mountains. They head to Garramide through a land ruined by war.

Tali and Rannilt are taken west by the chancellor with the battered remnant of his army, to grim Fortress Rutherin on the west coast. Rannilt wants to be a healer but Tali points out that Lyf stole her gift. Rannilt denies this but Tali won't listen. She is determined to bring Lyf to justice for his part in her mother's murder, but can't because she's lost control of her magery.

The chancellor is bitter and desperate: news about the war is very bad. Hightspall's armies have lost every battle; more than half the country has fallen to Lyf's forces and the rest can't hold out long. Tali is weak, for her healing blood is being taken to heal people bitten by shifters. And she's desolate—it's her fault that Tobry, whom she loves, chose to become a shifter and was killed. Tali also fears the chancellor will discover that she carries the master pearl in her head, and cut it out of her.

Her other worry is that Lyf will realise the eighty thousand Pale slaves in Cython are a threat at the heart of his empire; that he will put them down. She cannot allow this to happen to her people but what can she do? After her bloody escape, she's terrified of going anywhere near Cython.

She realises that she's being watched by KRONI, an old clock attendant, and also by LIZUE, another prisoner in the cells. Rannilt reveals Tali's true identity and Lizue attacks, trying to cut the master pearl out of her head—she's one of Lyf's agents. Tali manages to escape and flees down to the old port of Rutherin. The chancellor's men are closing in when she is rescued by Kroni, taken onto his boat, and he sails out to sea into the pack ice.

Kroni's real name is HOLM but is he an ally, or does he want to sell her to the highest bidder? After a number of battles, including being attacked by Lizue from a gauntling (a flying shifter), Holm's boat being burned, and he and Tali taking refuge on an iceberg, she realises that this gentle, troubled man is on her side.

Wil, now mad and tormented by guilt, has gone all the way down to the Engine at the heart of the land, the Engine whose imbalance Cythonians believe causes all the quakes, eruptions and other disasters that plague Hightspall. The king's primary duty is to heal the land, that is to use king-magery to put the Engine back into balance, but king-magery was lost when Grandys killed Lyf 2000 years ago and now the land cannot be healed. Wil, suffering acute withdrawal from his alkoyl addiction, interferes with the Engine and sends it further out of balance.

Rix, now known as Deadhand, and Glynnie reach Garramide but find that it has been taken over by a gigantic bandit, ARKYZ LEATHERHEAD, and his gang. Rix takes Leatherhead on and kills him, though his widow, the flamboyant BLATHY, swears revenge. Rix takes Garramide back, though his reputation has preceded him and he knows he's on trial. The castellan, SWELT, supports Rix and he sets out to build his power by a raid on an enemy-occupied fortress, but one of Rix's allies betrays him and the raid is a disaster.

Though Rix and Glynnie had been more than friends, their relationship is fractured; she acts as though they're servant and master again. Many of the people of the fortress are against him and now one of Lyf's battalions is marching to besiege Garramide.

Art is Rix's sole consolation, yet when he takes up his brushes his dead hand comes alive and he paints a screaming figure made from black opal. It is Axil Grandys, Maloch's original owner, whom Lyf's vengeful wrythen petrified and cast into the Abysm in ancient times, along with the other four Heroes. Rix is haunted by this figure, which seems to be changing, but he's also fascinated by it.

On the iceberg Tali falls, hits her head and relives one of her ancestors' deaths at the moment an ebony pearl was cut from her. Tali has had these nightmares before and feels sure she'll be the next one to die. She has to get her magery back and Holm helps her to do so, though he tells her that she can either use it for destruction or for healing, but not both—if she uses it destructively she will never be able to heal again.

Holm was once a brilliant young surgeon but, after a tragedy of his own making, gave it up forever. They reach shore and find themselves hunted and attacked. They eventually escape and head for the suspended tower of Tirnan Twil, where Axil Grandys' papers and personal effects are held. Tali hopes to find a clue that will help them to defeat Lyf.

The siege of Garramide reaches a climax, though Rix knows he cannot hold the enemy out. Then, in the middle of a bitter snowstorm, beyond his wildest hope Tobry reappears and they turn the enemy back.

When Tobry was hurled from the tower he landed in a pit of water, mud and corpses—he was badly injured but his shifter nature saved his life and he was nursed back to health by an enemy soldier, Salyk. Rix thinks that Tobry was healed by Tali's healing blood and Tobry does not tell him otherwise, though in fact he did not get enough healing blood and the shifter curse is getting worse.

Lyf has torn down much of old Caulderon, including Palace Ricinus; he has executed thousands of dissidents and Herovians, and is bent on rebuilding the old city as it was during his reign. However his people are increasingly troubled by the excessive bloodshed and destruction and, when the chancellor's envoys propose a peace conference, Lyf reluctantly agrees.

At Tirnan Twil Tali sees a curious self-portrait, done by Lyf when he was a young man, which shows him wearing a simple, woven metal headband. Tirnan Twil is fire-bombed by a flock of gauntlings, who want revenge on Tali because she killed Lizue and crippled her gauntling. Tali and Holm barely escape. They head for the closest refuge, Garramide, and Tali has a joyful reunion with Tobry, until he reveals his terrible secret: he's still a shifter, it's passed to the incurable stage, and he's going to go mad and die. He won't let Tali use healing magery on him. It's too risky for her.

Blathy is listening through the keyhole and spreads the news to the other dissidents in Garramide—that Rix has allowed a vicious shifter into their midst. They plan a mutiny.

Rix is furious that Tobry, his oldest friend, did not tell him. Morale is dreadful in Garramide now and Rix keeps dreaming about the furious, opalised man he painted. This gives him an idea—if he could recover Axil Grandys' petrified body from the Abysm and place it above the gates of Garramide, this symbol of the legendary founder of Hightspall would greatly boost his people's morale, and terrify Lyf's forces. Tali and Holm get wind of this reckless plan and stop Rix on the brink of the Abysm just in time—the enchanted sword, Maloch, is rattling furiously in its sheath, trying to get to Grandys.

Back in Garramide, Tali, in desperation, drugs Tobry and attempts to heal him with her healing blood, but when she takes the knife to him he shifts


  • "A stunning start to an epic fantasy that should become a dark jewel in the genre... Highly recommended."—SF Revu on Vengeance
  • "Irvine... is a veteran storyteller who excels in sustaining complex plots with well-rounded characters. Here, he delivers a compelling tale of vengeance, loyalty, and the search for a place in the world."—Library Journal (Starred Review) on Vengeance
  • "A satisfying story."—Publishers Weekly on Vengeance

On Sale
Jun 3, 2014
Page Count
656 pages

Ian Irvine

About the Author

Ian Irvine, an Australian marine scientist, has also written 32 novels and an anthology of shorter stories. His novels include the Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has been published in many countries and translations and has sold over sold over a million copies, a trilogy of eco-thrillers in a world of catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, now in its third edition, and 13 novels for younger readers. His latest book is The Fatal Gate, Book 2 of The Gates of Good and Evil, the sequel to The View from the Mirror.

Learn more about this author