John Dickinson, Author . Random/Fickling $15.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-385-75025-7

Dickinson's debut fantasy has lofty ambitions but quickly gets mired in its own complexity. Phaedra, 16, is the only child of the widowed Warden of Trant, one of 10 territories in an unnamed Kingdom. As such, she is sought after for the lands that will come into the hands of her husband upon her father's death; as countless suitors vie for her hand, Phaedra rebuffs them. She holds out for the mysterious knight who appears in her dreams each night, and agrees (through her dreams) to meet with him in person. He turns out to be Ulfin, the March-count of Tarceny, "of whose house no man could say a good thing." She escapes with him by sea, and discovers that the "dreams" are due not to witchcraft, according to Ulfin, but rather what he "prefer[s] to call under-craft ," a "gift" from the titular Cup in his possession. Phaedra marries Ulfin, precipitating a war between Trant and Tarceny, which snowballs into a conflict involving the entire Kingdom. Soon, Phaedra's father is dead, she is pregnant, and Ulfin's dark secrets come to the surface. The plot moves slowly and the narrative can be ornate and bulky ("Then the world was blotted out by his arms about her, his lips upon her face, and the thud, thud, thud of her own heart within her chest"). Although Phaedra emerges as an interesting heroine, only determined readers will manage to stay the course to savor her bittersweet victory. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 11/15/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
Genre: Children's
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