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Culture clashes resound through this multi-layered coming-of-age tale from fantasist Baker (The Anvil of the World). Shaped in movements like a verbal symphony, the novel follows half-demon foundling Gard from a pastoral childhood punctuated with vicious raids by the savage Riders. Gard's willingness to kill in self-defense leads to a career as gladiator and sex slave under the insatiable Lady Pirihine and his training as a powerful mage, all contrasted with and eventually tied into the Gospel-like story of the Star, a John the Baptist-like figure, and the Child, a young girl who becomes a saint. Somehow this unusual and mostly charming mélange of basic fantasy motifs, fair and feral landscapes, and ironic characterizations ranging from gentle to raucous all comes together harmoniously, like extended variations on the theme that achieving adulthood is not for fainthearted sissies. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.