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N. Lee Wood. Ace Books, $22.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-441-00650-2

Stepping away from the SF thriller milieu of her first two novels (Looking for the Mahdi and Faraday's Orphans), Wood turns her attention to fantasy, with less successful results. Antonya is an orphan raised by an isolated sect of monks, who have been murdered in one of the Faith's frequent Purges, killing sprees intended to cleanse the land of heretics and other dangerous souls. Now Antonya intends to take revenge against the protector of the Faith, the treacherous Lord P'tre Terhune. Her first step is to gain the allegiance of the lordless warrior Kerric of Myro, telling him she is Terhune's niece. With Kerric's contacts, Antonya builds an army to threaten P'tre Terhune's kingdom. Terhune has troubles of his own at home: constant court intrigues and power plays between himself and the depraved old high Priest of the Faith, K'ferrin, and K'ferrin's grandson, B'nach. To defeat Terhune, Antonya will have to become as ruthless and inhuman as he is, ready to sacrifice anything for the ultimate goal. The novel strives to address important points on morality, hypocrisy and power with its braided plot, but character development is sacrificed in order to do so. Too many players--such as a dangerous ex-Assassin, a boy who may fulfill a grand Prophecy and two warriors who leave P'tre Terhune's guard to support Antonya--seem to exist merely to satisfy particular plot points, never becoming integral parts of the story. Infrequent flashbacks to Antonya's idyllic childhood at the monastery add little, and summary exposition frequently replaces storytelling to keep the plot moving. Readers who can overlook these weaknesses, however, will find a fast-paced adventure story with plenty of action and intrigue. (Sept.)