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Lindskold (Through Wolf's Eyes) delivers an enjoyable but unremarkable series launch. Brenda Morris, an innocent quarter-Chinese college student, is abruptly thrust into the hidden world of the Thirteen Orphans, descendants of magicians who take the forms of Chinese zodiac animals and draw magic from the game of mah-jongg. Brenda fights valiantly against otherworld elements who seek to steal the Orphans' power, but indulges in a painfully juvenile crush on a killer who attacks her father. From a fascinating premise, the narrative stalls repeatedly under the weight of awkward exposition, explanation of magic and mah-jongg and analysis of offscreen events. Stiff, unrealistic dialogue interrupts crisp, clean narrative prose. The only sparkle comes from mysterious assassins Flying Claw and Righteous Drum. After this serviceable setup, readers will mostly hope for the interesting sequel promised by the abrupt conclusion. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.