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First venture into hardcover for Lee's paperback fantasy series (The Unicom Quest, 1986, etc.) about Strand, a land where magic exists alongside guns and mechanical devices. A power struggle between the Umbrian Empire and the Magic Kingdoms is imminent. In Umbria, where magic is both feared and disbelieved, Varodius, the old, maybe insane Emperor, is urged by his ambitious and ruthless secretary, Malum of Quern (who, unknown to Varodius, is also his son), to subdue and occupy the Magical Kingdoms. But the latter, who have no standing armies, are protected by mages who practice the Discipline. The mages' spellcasting, however, can be disrupted by simple machines such as a hand-cranked noise generator. Only Jarrod Courtak, Mage of Paladine, is immune to such interference. Beginning his campaign, Malum kidnaps three young Weatherwards and attempts to coerce them into alleviating the drought presently afflicting Umbria. Now, after an absence of many years, the unicorns have returned to Strand; they can communicate telepathically with mages, and also travel instantaneously from place to place via a magical dimension, ""Interim."" Jarrod's companion is Nastrus, a unicorn elder statesman. Jarrod sends his stepson, Joscelyn, and some unicorns to locate the missing wizards, while certain oligarchies prepare plans to attack Umbria's long, unprotected coastline. So commences a protracted and rather dreary tussle. Lee's scenario contains all the appropriate ingredients, but lacks color and sparkle, while the narrative style hovers somewhere between mundane and somnolent: adequate, probably, for existing fans, but it does nothing to attract newcomers.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Tor