An acclaimed poet and short-story writer in her native Canada, Dorsey is almost unknown in the States. That should change with the publication of this novel, her first. The narrative braids the lives of three women who are linked by their independent spirits as well as by blood. One is ""the waif,"" a young slave whose strange dreams and troubling half-memories hint at a past she can't remember. When the waif is sold as a concubine to a prince in the distant northern Land of the Dark Isles, she begins a journey that will lead her to the secret of her past as well as to her future. Weaving the waif's tale with that of Essa, an adventurous young woman determined to find her mother, and the journal entries of a woman escaping a husband she neither loves nor wants, Dorsey creates a complex and human story about freedom, love and the need to retain one's own identity. The fantasy setting is stark, a world where the most brutal events are treated with cold matter-of-factness, but Dorsey's writing is strong, even unflinching. Those who enjoy the work of such popular feminist speculative fiction writers as Joanna Russ and Ursula K. Le Guin will find much to admire here. (Jan.) FYI: Dorsey is head of Tesseract Books, a leading Canadian SF publisher.