This is the first of a swords & sorcery series, though complete in itself. It's so well-written, I wonder why I haven't heard more about author Juliet McKenna before now?!! Lots of excitement and well-plotted twists.
From back cover: The Secrets of the Shadow---Men
Magic? It's for the rich, the powerful...the Archmage and his elite wizards and cloud-masters. Livak is not among them. She haunts the back taverns of the realm, careful to appear neither rich nor poor, neither tall nor short . . . neither man nor woman. Obscurity is her protection, thievery her livelihood, and gambling her weakness. Alas, some bets are hard to resist. Particularly when they offer a chance to board a ship for Hadrumal, the fabled city of the Archmage. So Livak follows a minor wizard, Shiv, in an attempt to turn a rune or two, never dreaming that the stolen tankard she wants to sell contains the secrets of an ancient magic far more powerful, and infinitely darker, than any mortal mage's spells.
For lovers of fantasy like myself, i consider this a don't miss: great world=building feat
Book One of the Einarinn series