A sword-and-sorcery narrative a la Tolkien, being introduced with some fanfare in simultaneous hard-cover and trade paperback editions. As in The Lord of the Rings, a small band of comrades--Man, Elf, Dwarf--must undertake a desperate journey into a kingdom of dread under the guidance of a mighty seer, while their threatened homeland confront the approaching darkness. But the unavoidable comparison is after all only an embarrassment. Warlocks and ancient talismans and a smattering of invented names notwithstanding, Brooks has simply not created any sort of world for Iris Flick and Shes and Menion Leah to figure in. As for the writing, it is less a use of language than a kind of verbal peanut butter smeared indiscrirninately across 726 pages. The brothers Hildebrandt, whose treacly illustrations disfigure the latest Tolkien Calendar, provide the perfect visual correlative to a world in which people are always glancing into each other's "slim faces" and no one seems to be bothered by being in "the apex of [a] circle." None of this can be expected to dismay the s-and-s audience.