The setting for this book is reminiscent of a culture like Tibet, with monastic enclaves of religious and scholarly pursuits. Even the sand picture being created in preparation for a ceremony evokes Tibetan monks' sand mandalas.
As in Wells' other books, the female characters are not excluded from positions of influence - the main character, Maskelle, is the avatar of one aspect of godhead in her religion, although she is currently - somewhat by choice - living in exile from the center of faith. The growing crisis that faces her people brings her back to her home, however unwillingly, to confront evil and preserve her world.
Wells' skill, in her other books as well as this, lies in creating a whole world that is sufficiently different from our own to be intriguing, but sufficiently familiar to be immediately comfortable. Her characters are vividly cast and, for the most part, fleshed out more than you find in much fantasy/SF writing.