Setting her first American-published fantasy in a world where mankind reveres the plough and the axe and fears the forest, talented Australian Douglass delivers an initially beguiling story of human struggle to put aside its age-old enmity for two other races and join in battle against a deadly invasion. Axis the BattleAxe, bastard nephew of the king and leader of the Axe-Wielders, marches his crack troops north to help his despised half brother and the king's heir to repel winter-strengthened wraiths poised to decimate the land. A prophecy unearthed in a monastery explodes Axis's beliefs about man's ancient battle against the Forbidden--two hated races driven into exile, both of whom, according to the prophecy, must ally with man to defeat the wraiths. Axis's own part in the prophecy, as well as that of his half brother's betrothed, grows clearer with every stride closer to the northern menace. Invoking most of a conventional epic's elements, Douglass sets her hero on a path that reveals his hidden parentage and key role in the reuniting of the three races. Strongest at the beginning while exploring the plough-based traditions of man and its fear of the Forbidden races, this first volume soon loses dramatic tension: the prophecy is so straightforward that the continuing books will play connect-the-dots unless Douglass introduces twists to lift her orthodox, well-written series up to originality. (Mar. 26) Forecast: This novel carries bright blurbs from David Drake and Elizabeth Haydon, among others, and the publisher is pushing it as ""an epic fantasy in the tradition of David Eddings and Terry Goodkind."" But both Douglass, who is a bestseller in Australia, and Tor will have to work hard to bring Douglass up to the sort of numbers enjoyed by Eddings/Goodkind--or Drake and Haydon, for that matter.