Prince of Dogs is the second book of Kate Elliott's "Crown of Stars," a series kicked off in delicious fashion with King's Dragon. The stories begun there continue in Elliott's gripping storytelling style: Sanglant, the king's half-human bastard son, is held prisoner by the savage Eika warlord Bloodheart in the captured and sacked city of Gent. The king's elite warrior force, the Dragons, fought valiantly but fruitlessly to save that city and died to a man. Sanglant, first among the Dragons, was saved from death by his mother's blood. He cannot die, but the blessing becomes curse as the Eika torture him to the point of madness. Only two things allow him to hold onto the tiniest scrap of sanity: the allegiance of a pack of Eika dogs who have transferred their loyalty utterly to him, and the memory of his forbidden love for the mysterious King's Eagle, Liath.
Liath, grieving over Sanglant and trying desperately to understand and control the secrets of her and her father's past, has found a measure of safety in the company of her comrades in the King's Eagles. But she still cannot bring herself to fully trust anyone enough to share her secrets and her fears, and she finds soon enough that her sense of safety is illusory. Her tormentor, Hugh, will stop at nothing -- even the practice of forbidden sorceries -- to have from Liath the knowledge and the body he lusts for. Hugh has fooled everyone, except possibly the king's trusted advisor Rosvita, and Liath is only able to escape Hugh by essentially giving her boon friend Hanna over as hostage. After bearing a message from the king to Count Lavastine, she thinks she might be able to trust -- at least a little -- Lavastine's bastard son and proclaimed heir, Alain.
Alain, thrust from anonymity to nobility by a word from the king, wears his new status with no little discomfort, for he is unable to forget his humble upbringing even in the courts of kings. His father's men, after seeing him slay Eika after Eika in their battles against the invading savages, vow to follow him as they do Lavastine. Only Alain knows that he is unworthy of their loyalty. It was the Lady of Battles, to whom Alain has sworn himself and who is invisible to all but him, whose hand cut the Eika down so surely. Even more troubling to the young man are the visions that come to him, when he dreams, of the Eika prince whom he saved from a sorcerous sacrifice.
Fifth Son is the least-favored offspring of the Eika warlord. Banished by his father, he begins to build an army that could make him a leader even greater than Bloodheart. The compassion shown him by Alain does not really make him more sympathetic to the humans the Eika call the Soft Ones, but it does give him insight into human behavior that could give him the ultimate edge he needs to topple his father and conquer completely the Soft Ones. And it is one little girl, an orphan who survived the sacking of Gent, who may be the thread linking all their fates together.
Kate Elliott couldn't be any better, could she? She's a master of characterization and a whiz at creating a fully-fleshed fantasy world. By turns, she lets the readers be Sanglant, and Liath, and Alain, and Fifth Son, and little Anna. Fantasy connoisseurs, you shouldn't pick this up for any pre-sleep bedtime reading. You won't be able to slip a bookmark in and lay this on the bedside table; don't even try.