In Wells's new fantasy (The Element of Fire, 1993, not seen), the Ancient Mages nearly destroyed the world with flame and lava a thousand years ago, leaving a vast desert of rock and sand dotted with mysterious jutting Remnants. At the desert's edge, the eight ascending tiers of the city Charisat range from grinding poverty in the eighth tier to, at the topmost levels, the serene wealth enjoyed by the ruling Elector, the noble Patricians, and the Warders with their advanced mental powers. Khat of the sixth tier is a ``kris,'' a humanoid of a race created by the Ancients to be capable of surviving the worst the desert has to offer; with his human partner, Sagai, he deals in Ancient relics. Now, the Master Warder, Sonet Riathan, owns an Ancient text that describes relics that he believes may be assembled into an arcane engine that'll augment his powers manyfold. So he orders an assistant Warder, Elen, to hire Khat to locate these relics. Wary and mistrustful, beset by his own problems, Khat agrees, only to discover the involvement of another Warder--the powerful but mad Constans. Indeed, there seems to be a conspiracy that extends to the highest levels. And, while various aspects of the conspiracy unfold, Khat's life is repeatedly endangered as he tries to understand the true significance of the relics. Riathan, it emerges, has made a bargain with an Inhabitant of the West, a creature of dreadful potency. In return for the power he craves, Riathan will open an Ancient doorway through a Remnant, allowing the ghostlike, predatory, and uncontrollable Inhabitants to escape into the world from their own doomed reality. What Khat, Elen, and Constans grasp--and Riathan refuses to accept--is that the Ancient near-destruction of the world was caused by their struggle to repel a previous invasion of Inhabitants. A bravura performance, to which no summary can do justice: compellingly plotted, stunningly original in concept, and glowing with utterly convincing detail.