This books opens with an unusual glimpse into the heart of the Cyclan where Master Nequal, the Cyber Prime, is issuing orders to make the capture of Dumarest and the retrieval of the secret of the affinity-twin a priority. Dumarest himself has been serving as a crewman on the Tophier, but realizes that the Cyclan is closing in on him. He charters a ship, the Styast, hoping to have it plot a random course that the cybers can't predict. The ship is a wreck, and the crew a seedy bunch that includes the washedup musician Arbush who plays the gilyre. Thanks to a hint from the minstrel Dumarest learns the crew is planning treachery, and he gets off Quick time just in time to have a laser pointed at him. He quickly turns the tables on them, but just then the ship is hit by a warp, a sort of interstellar storm thrown out by supernovas. The warp casts them a half million light years across the galaxy to crash land in the polar regions of the planet Camollard. Only Dumarest and Arbush survive and as they struggle across the icy wastes avoiding the quasi-human Krim they stumble upon a city. It's Instone, a utopia run by the master computer, Camolsaer, and it's servants the robotic Monitors. The inhabitants all lead a life of luxury, although the Monitors compel them to do pointless make-work jobs. They quickly befriend Adara, a native of the city, and Eloise, a dancer who was rescued ny Adara when her plane crashed and who has been trapped there ever since. And they are trapped. Instone has no connections with the outside world. And the price they pay for their utopian life is the regular Knelling, a time when each inhabitant is assigned a number, a bell is rung, and those for whom it tolls are "converted." Eloise, who is sick of wimps like Adara, has been waiting for a real man like Dumarest. But she knows he's just the kind of rugged individual the system can't stand, and he'll be one of the first eliminated during the Knelling. There only hope is to escape before that happens.
Despite Dumarests suspicions, the Cyclan are not behind his complications he encounters in Instone, except in the general sense that their pursuit of him is a constant threat. This is a nice change of pace from the earlier volumes where they were always revealed to be behind the mischief. In place of that predictable plot element we now have the one where every woman finds Dumarest sexually irresistible.
The city of Instone seems implausible to the point of absurdity. It's a utopia which provides people with every luxury imaginable, but if the overindulge they are deemed unfit and culled by Camolsaer. But since Camolsaer is providing them with the luxuries in the first place, wouldn't it make more sense just to ration their access to the things they're over indulging in? The whole utopia comes across as just a straw man for the self-reliant Dumarest to knock down in order to demonstrate the evils of providing for people's needs.
Dumarest has given up carotid pinching in favor of slapping people in the face. He dispenses it as a cure for hysteria, administering a dose to an average of one man and one woman each book. No doubt he will distribute more doses in the books that follow.