Once the city of Berylon was benevolently ruled by Raven Tormalyne, until his rival, the ambitious Arioso Pellior, the Basilisk, burned Tormalyne Palace. Of all the family, only young Rook, cowering under the ashes in the fireplace, survived. Rook was sent to the remote island Luly, where he became a bard (poet/musician) and produced a son, Hollis, but could never bring himself to remember his heritage. Nearly 40 years later, young Griffin Tormalyne, a distant relative, arrives at Luly, forcing Rook to confront his past. So he travels into the magical hinterlands, where, after various adventures, he recovers his memory and some of his inherited magic powers. But when he returns to Luly, Griffin is dead and the school burned. The Basilisk, meantime, a master of subtle magics, trains his dragon-eyed daughter Luna to succeed him. Rook, arriving in Berylon, takes a job cataloguing old music manuscripts that the Basilisk recovered from ruined Tormalyne Palace, and acquires a magical pipe to use against the Basilisk. But there are further complications: relatives of Griffin are smuggling in weapons and plotting against the Basilisk; the Basilisk’s plain, empty-headed daughter Damiet falls in love with Rook; Hollis shows up; and Rook finds himself strongly attracted to Luna, a magician more powerful than her father. Previous McKillip offerings (Winter Rose, 1996, etc.) have been charming, elegant wisps; this one, after a rather laborious start, presses forward with altogether more determination and substance: a significant improvement overall.