First of a new doorstopper fantasy series from the author of Dreamseeker’s Road (1995), etc. Desert kingdom Ixti’s regime is aristocratic; in frigid, neighboring Eron, people are organized into craft guilds confusingly called “clans.” Arrogant young Eronese craftsman Eddyn rapes and impregnates the beautiful Strynn. To preserve the Balance, the Clan chiefs decree that Eddyn’s cousin, Avall, shall wed Strynn, and all three will be posted to Gem-Hold for the winter. Here, they’ll mine gemstones and make articles for King Gynn’s royal regalia. Avall’s sister Merryn, having humiliated Eddyn during ritual war games, goes to War-Hold. Hunting in Ixti, Prince Kraxxi accidentally impales his younger brother, King Barrax’s favorite, and flees. Merryn apprehends Kraxxi and, unaware of his identity, takes him as her lover. Avall, meanwhile, discovers an extraordinary gemstone that feeds on blood (a familiar Deitz icon).When Avall and friend Rann both feed the gem, they’re also able to share their minds! Soon Avall finds that he can telepathically contact Merryn, too! Eddyn continues to skulk and spy on Avall and Strynn; he touches the gem, but it hates him. Avall decides that the Clan bigwigs must be told about the gem, and leaves with Rann. Eddyn does inform trainee priest Rrath about the gem; but Rrath’s clandestinely involved with a secret society that orders the pair to pursue Avall through the snow. Avall, sharing with herder woman Div, learns that the carnivorous birkits are both sentient and telepathic, so when Eddyn and company attack, the birkits defend them. Avall, wounded, falls into an icy river. Kraxxi flees from Merryn, but King Barrax’s chief torturer captures them both. Some promising ideas, set forth at interminable length, with youthful and largely indistinguishable characters; a sketchy backdrop; and not even a token ending. Your move.