In the land of Ayr two noble families, the Renn and the Wills, fight for political advantage in this sprawling first volume in a new high fantasy series distinguished by intelligent characters and believable politics. The Renn noblemen set out on a path of treachery, conceiving a plan to murder one of their own at the Westbrook Fair and, by so doing, frame the other family. The Wills plan an equally heinous act; they want to force a spunky young noblewoman to marry a handsome but subjugated prince, in order to produce an heir who'll be their puppet on the throne. Meanwhile, Tam, Fynnol and Baore, three young cousins of supposed peasant background, believing themselves far removed from the politics of the nobles, blithely set out from their sheltered homes in the Vale to make their fortunes. But when they encounter Alaan, a mysterious rogue with a charming demeanor, all their plans go awry. Supernatural forces cause paths and tributaries to mysteriously and unpredictably open, channeling the travelers into unforeseen lands and onto heretofore hidden islands, with hazardous results. Inevitably, all paths lead to the Westbrook Fair. Russell (River Into Darkness) so neatly interweaves the supernatural characters into the story that the magical elements seem an organic part of the history being made. This a perfectly plotted, beautifully written fantasy. Agent, Howard Morhaim. (Feb. 8) Forecast: With rights already sold to Germany and the U.K., for six figures each, as well as a strong blurbs from Stephen Donaldson, Robin Hobb and Janny Wurts, plus a three-city author tour, this novel looks to be on the fantasy fast track.