Rather uncharacteristic dark fantasy from the stylish author of The Folk of the Air (1986), The Last Unicorn, etc. Ill-tempered innkeeper Karsh reluctantly accepts a disparate set of guests: Lal, a black-skinned sorceress; her companion Nyateneri, a warrior- priestess fleeing assassins; and poor, pale, drowned Lukassa, resurrected by Lal, who recalls little of her past but can see into the netherworld. Nyateneri's familiar is a fox who once had human form. Also on the premises are Rosseth, Karst's much-abused assistant, and Tikat, Lukassa's betrothed. In due course the fox brings to the inn an ancient, enfeebled wizard, The Man Who Laughs. The wizard's former apprentice, Arshadin, has sold his soul and his body's blood to demon Others in return for immortality. Arshadin intends to kill The Man Who Laughs, turn him into a ``griga'ath'' (an evil but powerful ghost) and send him to the Others in exchange for the return of his blood. Even though distracted by Lal and Nyateneri--she turns out to be a man--Arshadin cannot be prevented from defeating The Man Who Laughs and generating the griga'ath. But can Lukassa, once dead herself, somehow influence the Others? An inordinately complicated deal-with-the-devil variant. Beagle's inexplicable choice of narrative structure--ten different first-person narrators--is an irritating distraction. And the result, if often admirable, is detached and cold, the opposite of what was evidently intended.