First of yet another projected seven-book series from the veteran paperback fantasists (the Darksword trilogy, the Rose of the Prophet trilogy, etc.). Long ago, in an attempt to control the bellicose Patryn, the Sartan (powerful wizards) broke the world into the usual four pieces (air, fire, earth, water) and imprisoned the Patryn within the magical Labyrinth in order to temper them. But, inexplicably, the Sartan vanished; the Labyrinth turned hostile, so that any Patryn who survived its deadly toils emerged with enormous magic power. Now, in the realm of air, human King Stephen has hired assassin Hugh to murder spoiled-brat Bane, supposedly Stephen's son but actually that of Sinistrad the mysteriarch (wizard, not as powerful as Patryn or Sartan). Sinistrad has sent Bane to be a spy and troublemaker. But Hugh becomes unable to kill Bane, who's accompanied by a clumsy servant, Alfred; their flying, elvish dragon-boat crashes on a floating island inhabited by Gegs (dwarves), whose purpose is to serve the vast and (to them) incomprehensible machine, the Kicksey-winsey (actually built long ago by the Sartan, and intended to help knit the world back together). Also arriving on the island is Haplo the Patryn, dispatched by his boss on another spy/troublemaker mission. Clear so far? Turns out, after unutterable complications, that Alfred is a Sartan; Hugh dies while killing Sinistrad to save Bane; Haplo stands off Alfred, seizes Bane, and disappears back into the Death Gate. Plot, more plot, and yet more plot, to an astounding degree of convolution: all well and good. However, readers expecting somewhat more than merely procedural virtues--such as a less noisy and distracting, more comprehensible backdrop; characters instead of wizards; and action rather than chat and description--face certain disappointment.