The intricate but sprawling and chilly opener of a trilogy entitled The Fionavar Tapestry--from an author whose claim to fame is that he helped Christopher Tolkien edit J.R.R.'s Silmarillion. After a lecture, five friends from the University of Toronto meet Loren, a mage of the world Fionavar, and his sidekick Matt the Dwarf. The friends agree to visit Fionavar to participate in the Summer Festival. But they arrive in Fionavar to find the land of Brennin afflicted with a severe, magical drought. The High King, proud, stooped old Ailell, refuses to sacrifice himself upon the Summer Tree to break the drought, since his irresponsible younger son Diarmuid is more interested in wine and women that in statecraft, and his elder son has been banished for treasonously volunteering to sacrifice himself in Ailell's stead. Meanwhile, Brennin's chief mage Metran has fallen into treacherous ways, threatening the efficacy of the five magical wardstones that confine the supreme evil being Rakoth Maugrim to a dungeon beneath Mount Rangat. The five visitors, then, soon become involved in these and other plots. Psychically gifted Kimberley Ford becomes a Seer. Brainy Kevin Laine joins prince Diarmuid's warriors. Guilt-ridden Paul Schafer is accepted as the sacrifice on the Summer Tree, whence he hopes to invoke the Tree-god and bring rain. Supplying the muscle, big Dave Martyniuk, separated from the others during the crossing, falls in with the mounted warrior Dalrei. And sweet Jennifer Lowell is captured and borne off by evil beasties to face horrid tortures at the hands of Rankoth Maugrim himself. Direful, portentous stuff, with a cast of thousands, a blur of scenery, and patchy dramatics: impressively wrought but overcomplicated and coolly unengaging.