The understated and unusual fantasy series begun in Lens of the World (1990) continues to delight in this second volume. The young student Nazhuret, who learned at the end of the first book that he was heir to a duchy, finds himself beset by assassins who want to prevent him from claiming his birthright (in which he has no real interest). But before he and his lover Arlin can discover who is behind the attempts on their lives, they are commissioned by King Rudof of Velonya to travel as his unofficial ambassadors into the Rezhmian Empire. Tensions have been rising between Rezhmia and Velonya, and Rudof hopes that Nazhuret and Arlin can succeed diplomatically where others have failed. Their journey takes them to the plains of the wild Nailish nomads, where they meet a wizard, weather earthquakes, and narrowly avoid being shanghaied into the Rezhmian army. At last, reaching Rezhmia, they fall in with a visionary eunuch slave and race against time to avert the coming war. MacAvoy's series has some of the flavor and subtlety of Gene Wolfe's modern classic The Book of the New Sun, but her own unique elements--a fascination with shifting genders and the mysteries of death--make this series distinctive in the often monochromatic fantasy field. Unlike many other series fantasies, each volume of MacAvoy's tells a self-contained story as well as advancing the larger saga, so readers will not feel cheated waiting for the next volume. The ``Lens of the World'' series promises to become a landmark of the decade, and no reader of modern fantasy should miss it.