For his second outing, O'Leary moves from science fiction (Door Number Three, 1995) to this fantasy consisting of stories within stories within stories. When young King Simon goes deaf, magicians are summoned to help. One (only later revealed to have been the evil Usher of the Night, along with his horrid sidekick, the rook Tomen) cures the boy--by making him telepathic! Poor tormented Simon--he can't shut the thoughts out--teaches himself magic while searching for a cure, but to no avail. Then he meets young orphan Tim, who's been taught wind magic by an eagle, Dub. Tim cures Simon, and the two realize that the Night Usher and Tomen are their mutual enemies. Years before, a mysterious ailment that killed or damaged only females spread through the land; now it appears that the Night Usher recruits only boys for his nefarious plans. Is there a connection? Tim and Simon acquire another ally, Marty, of a froggy race created by the vanished wizards. When Simon and Tim eventually confront Tomen (the real malignant power), Marty reveals that she's actually Mother Death, the only being to whom Tome is vulnerable. All this merely hints at the serpentine convolutions here (cf. Michael Coney's The Celestial Steam Locomotive, 1983). It doesn't quite scale the loftiest pinnacles, but it's a weird, witty, often enchanting climb, boosted by the resolutely feminist subtext.