McKillip's first adult fantasy since the ``Riddlemaster of Hed'' series: a subtle, well-crafted tale redolent of magic and mystery, in which mythic figures are made flesh, and mortals are conscripted for an otherworldly contest. To free his spell-caught people (and his beloved Tiel), young Lorleu of the nomadic Wayfolk must aid the fearsome Gold King, whom Corleu has known before only as the subject of folk tales and as the patron sign of one of the ``holds,'' the regional settlements. With the help of the sorceress Nyx Ro, estranged daughter of the Holder of Ro Holding, he seeks what the Gold King wants (though he cannot tell Nyx)-the heart of the Cygnet, Ro Holding's own patron holdsign. Nyx's family works against them, knowing that if the Gold King succeeds it will upset the balance that keeps peace among the holds. At each step of Corleu's quest another legendary figure is awakened--the Blind Lady, the Dancer, the Warlock--and they all make their way to a final confrontation at Nyx's home, Ro House. The prose is rich, without wordiness; the background mythology (only hinted at here) is original, tantalizing, and convincing. Winner of the World Fantasy Award, McKillip knows what so many other fantasy writers do not, or have forgotten: less is more.