The first two in a series of four volumes, set in a mythical empire and featuring 18-year-old Kerish-lo-Taan, the Emperor's third and favored son and, as such, one of the Godborn, and the Quest he undertakes to save the demoralized Empire, now threatened by an alliance of neighboring barbarians. Kerish, who is arrogant by training and rashly cruel, yet oddly sensitive and compassionate as well, is chosen by the High Priest to seek the Seven Keys, held by seven scattered enchanters, which will free a Promised Savior from his prison. With Kerish goes his lower-caste half-brother Forallkin, a soldier who would prefer to be leading an army at the border but accepts his role as Kerish's protector. The brothers' relationship is one of love-hate ambivalence; Forallkin's solicitude is tinged with a need ""to keep a Prince of the Godborn in subjection,"" and Kerish resents being overprotected and treated like a child. The Quest takes the two--and a bitter, ugly musician they meet en route--across seas besieged by barbarian pirates, to the sunny island of a philosopher king and the further domain of a capricious child enchanter, through marshes infested with horrible creatures, on the boat of a treacherous and despicable captain, up snow-covered hills and across desolate plains, to the mountain lair of a proud sorceress and then the tribal home of Kerish's mother's kin--who welcome the travelers but won't allow them to move on. We leave the brothers in a new Queen's court, where they hear news of the Emperor's death and prepare to set out for the Red Waste and key number four. By then Kerish has acquired three keys, each time going forth alone to endure brief but terrible ordeals set by the keys' sorceror keepers. Quoted on the jacket, Diana Wynne Jones compares the quartet to a ""moving, multi-colored mosaic"" in which ""each new piece alters those that have gone before."" So far, however, there are no Alexandria-style shifts--only a typical remote and pompous adventure in which a boy grows into manhood and humanity through a plot strung with the obligatory court intrigue, strained loyalties, betrayals, self-sacrifice, sword-point confrontations, awe-inviting illusions, and quotes from a fictitious body of traditional prophecy and adages.