First of a sword-and-sorcery series in which, a thousand years ago, Amarid and Theron founded a magical order whose new members become mages by acquiring bird familiars (necessary for the magic to work), staffs, and ceryll crystals, which focus and project the magic. Now, someone impersonating a mage is spreading death and destruction across Tobyn-Ser, so confidence in the real Children of Amarid collapses. The mage Baden, accepting his nephew Jaryd as apprentice, heads for a big meeting of the Children, hoping to discuss the matter and determine who's behind it. But the mages are argumentative and complacent, agreeing on little, so Baden arranges a dangerous trek to consult Theron's huffy ghost (a task no one has survived). Afterward, the powerful mage Sartol, a traitor secretly in league with invaders using advanced technology to counterfeit magic powers, claims that Baden's the traitor and that Jaryd was killed by Theron's ghost! The birds are merely a nuisance; otherwise, this hardworking if glum and unambitious debut might just--but only just--keep a nostril above the flood of mediocre fantasy currently sloshing about.