First of a trilogymeaning the initial, unresolved, third of a sprawling fantasy debut. At Castle Harvell, two powers vie for control of the ailing King Lesketh and his kingdom. The Chancellor, Baralis, is deep into the black arts. He drugs the queen, then rapes her, so the resulting Prince Kylock is actually his son. He then attempts to poison his rival, the powerful Lord Maybor. And, to further his own ambitions, he stirs up an unnecessary war with the neighboring Halcus. As years pass in the blink of a paragraph, Maybor tries to marry off his beautiful daughter, Melliandra, to the cruel, arrogant Kylock, but Melli prefers instead to flee into the forest. Meanwhile, apprentice baker Jack, an abused orphan whom Baralis has used to copy manuscripts, finds himself with a sudden and terrifying ability to work magic. So Jack is also forced to flee the castle, with Baralis in hot pursuit. And Tawl, a young knight of Valdis, sent to assist wise old Bevlin, is given the task of investigating the workings of a riddling prophecy. Verbose and dismayingly eager to embrace all the standard fantasy conventions. A so-so debut for those with a preference for large doses of hardworking, orthodox fantasy.