Prior to Zorah claiming absolute rule, the power of Oran was shared between four sisters who each represented one of the four basic elements; Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Together the four represented balance and formed what was known as the Queen's Knot. The four powers of the four queens ensured a balance of power between them and helped to control the forces of chaos.
When Zorah killed her three sisters and assumed control she guaranteed herself eternal youth by taking all the power for herself. She also took steps to ensure that nobody would ever rise up against her by having every child who contained even the slightest trace of elemental power, or the old magic as the people now refer to it, put to death. The only Orans aside from herself who were allowed power were those who had the ability to "read" the power signature of others and they were used to track down anybody with trace elemental power.
The city of Beldan swarms with children who have been abandoned by their parents rather than have it come back on them that their child was born with power. While the majority of them live in flocks, overseen by characters that make Fagin look like a model for Foster Care, Jobber lives an independent life in order to hide a secret. Dodging the guard, readers, and surviving on guile, Jobber's life was going along smoothly until it one day it all fell apart and she was revealed as a fire element with power to rival the Queen.
Not everyone agrees with the rule of Zorah, and she is starting to have troubles with her subjects. Part of the agreement she made with the Silean government was that Oran would pay for the presence of the occupying force. Silean nobility have bought up most of the countryside and Oran farmers have been reduced to tenants on land that had been in their families for generations.
High Silean taxes and years of bad crops have forced them to sell out and see their children become virtually slaves to the occupiers. Resentment has built over this, the killing of children with power, and the suppression of Oran beliefs in favour of the Silean Church until finally it has resulted in the formation of the New Moon, a rebel army.
At the time of New Moon the rebel army has been operating as a guerrilla force in the countryside. Raiding farms, robbing Silean merchants, and doing their best to rattle the nerve of the occupiers. But now they've moved their focus to Beldan, and for the first time stage an attack in the city that results in chaos and massacre. Silean cavalry attack innocent civilians and strike down anyone in their path, and Jobber's power goes out of control and she sets fire to a large chunk of the city.