"This is a bad one, Earl." Nimino's voice was barely a whisper. "We're dealing with fanaticism and aberrated fears—an ugly combination."So comments Dumarest's shipmate on the small, battered, old trading ship, The Moray. After he saw the ships handler killed by a mutant Dumarest wasted no time taking his job. He had subbdued a theif after the ring given him by Kalin which contains a secret formula the Cyclan will kill for. He soon found the thief dead and wants to get off-world before he's blamed for the murder. So he joined the motley crew of The Moray, Nimino the navigator with an eclectic belief in the supernatural, Lin the starry-eyed young steward, Claude the violent, alcoholic engineer, and the captain Bernard Sheyan, who has a deep seated fear of outer space. Their one passenger is Yalung, a dealer in precious stones. The ship sets out to trade in the Web, a group of worlds in a nebula that is treacherous to navigate. Eventually they make their way to Candara where the conservative and superstitious locals ask them to adjudicate the case of Lallia. She is an outworlder they have allowed to live among them. After her presence stirred up jealousy and envy they accused her of witchcraft. The offworlders are to decide her fate, and must do so in a way that won't threaten their profits.
This book gives us a closer look at shipboard life, especially of a small trader. It also highlights a problem with the reliance by space travelers on drugs like quicktime. When someone takes quicktime their metabolism slows down and consequently time subjectively seems to pass quicker. It also means that they slow to near immobility compared to someone not on the drug. That means that when crewmen like Dumarest take quicktime the would be unable to deal with any emergency that might arise. So it's not surprising that aside from a short scene at the beginning of the book there's no use of quicktime.
While the role of women was strong in the early books, it's been slowly deteriorating. Lallia, despite being strong willed (and a shady character) is little more than a prize to be won by Dumarest. She's "a female animal" who finds fulfillment in serving his needs. The one interesting thing about their relationship is when they enter in to a "ship-marriage" which will last only as long as they want it to or until they leave the ship's crew.
While they visit several planets in the Web, the one that stands out is Tyrann. If that name is familiar it's because a planet of the same name is found in Issac Asimov's The Stars like Dust (1951). And that previous Tyrann was located in the Nebula Kingdoms. This seems to be a direst reference to Asimov's book. It gives the impression that Dumarest's quest is taking place in Asimov's Galactic Empire. If that's true then Dumarest is in luck because the Nebula Kingdoms are within 500 LY of Earth. But it's unlikely his journey will end any time soon.