Book one of a projected four-part aeries, A Handful of Men, which itself follows Duncan's previous paperback series, A Man of His Word: lively, ingenious, disarming fantasy set in a well-realized land of sorcerers, gods, and numerous contending human varieties (""imps,"" ""fauns,"" ""elves,"" etc.). Now, at the end of the third millennium, the compact that prevented the world's four supreme warlocks from meddling in human affairs is breaking down. In the city of Hub, the old Emperor Emshandar stubbornly refuses to die, while heir prince Shandie and his rakish, self-serving assistant Ylo are preoccupied with the incessant military threats to the empire, many stirred up by sorcery. Elsewhere, King Rap of Krasnegar, once a sorcerer of godlike power, suspects his son has acquired sorcerous powers, is told by a god that one of his children will die, and realizes that the world-order is about to change for the worse. For the first time in a thousand years, the mysterious pixies intervene in human affairs. Finally, as old Emshandar dies, the sorcerers' compact dissolves: an insane dwarf sorcerer makes a bid for supreme power; Shandie--with a few loyal companions, Rap, and Raspnex the dwarf warlock--is driven forth from his palace, one step ahead of total disaster. Deftly woven and set forth with a refreshingly unpretentious clarity and directness: imagine David Eddings rewritten by Kate Wilhelm. Grab this one in the fervent hope that Duncan will maintain the same high standard throughout.