Inventive, moody fantasy--rooted in the Heroic Quest folk myths and weighed down by magical happenings, sonorous runic riddles, and spiritual tussles with metaphysical heavies like Time and Death. But once you've mastered character names such as ""Yllvere"" and ""Vydd,"" you won't need a concordance or maps--just a tolerance for mystical conundrums delivered by a series of eerie but generally humanoid beings (although two crows and a river do indulge in direful chat). Chiefly, this is the odyssey of Finn (who is at first given no name and many names), which begins when he leaves the ""winter brood"" of women ruled by his mother Yllvere (""spawn of nevermen and harsh old dreams""). Not yet a man, Finn climbs the ""Godtree"" Gwen Gildrun--a tree rooted in the beginning of the world where there is no time; he loses an eye to the crow Anu, captures two of her nestlings, and then (accompanied by bear-like Tabak) sets off to find his name, his father (the now-vanished High King), and his destiny Commanded by presences from stone and wood and water, Finn travels on--to acquire followers, to confront his father's steward, to travel on a death-ship, and at last to meet and mate with his lost twin sister. And finally he kills the High King, whose dying countenance rapidly changes from that of a king to that of a fool--yet one more riddle. Throughout, Hazel makes clever use of natural entities--stone and vegetation and sea--to charge the atmosphere with ancient mysteries in some spectacular conceits (the march of old stone kings has an agreeably chilling effect). And though hardly the jolliest of heros, Finn can speak with a wry wisdom: ""Small evils, I judged, were best left to themselves. Otherwise a man would fill his life with nothing else but taking heads."" Grimmer and sterner than Tolkien--with messages much tougher to untangle--but darkly artful work for those attuned to fantasy at its most knotted and somber.