Sara Douglass, . . Tor, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0449-0

In this stand-alone high fantasy set in the same universe as her Wayfarer Redemption series (Enchanter, etc.), Australian Douglass fashions a promising milieu of elemental Gnostic magic within a rugged coastal setting. Unfortunately, stock characters wending their way down standard plot-lines to a foregone conclusion obscure her world-building. Garth Baxtor, an apprentice healer who's inherited an extra helping of "the Touch" (the ability to feel—and, to some degree, alleviate—his patients' pain), journeys to the Veins, a complex of underground mines. While tending condemned workers in the shafts, Garth happens upon prisoner 859, whom Garth's Touch reveals to be Prince Maximilian, the missing heir to the throne of Escator. Later, in the Land of Dreams, Garth has a conversation with the ancient heraldic beast of Escator, the droll monster Manteceros, who agrees to confirm the identity of the true king if Garth can rescue prisoner 859 from the Veins and have him challenge the vile pretender, King Cavos. In an overly complicated finale Manteceros administers a moral test of worthiness to the two kingly claimants. Maximilian's near-instantaneous transformation after 17 years' hard labor from broken-minded wretch to dashing, lighthearted prince strains credibility, while a spate of hand-waving mystical exposition at book's end does more to confuse than resolve the story. Still, the atmosphere of maritime magic is diverting, and, for fans of the author's Redemption books, this may be enough. (July 21)