Saberhagen turns in a moderately entertaining and fast-paced effort. It's a strictly by-the-numbers little guys find magic dingus to fight overwhelmingly superior bad guys tale. Saberhagen just can't make me care about any of the characters. Major plot events come across as contrived. For example, old Draffut, our favorite God in the Machine, just happens to be waiting in a ravine to give Mark just the right sword for the needs of the moment. Nothing in the books prepare the reader to really believe that Vulcan can suddenly be trounced by a pack of unarmed mortals; the whole scene is ludicrous. Like too many fantasy efforts, what started out as a promising set of characters and situations is concluded by bombast. We even get the obligatory dark lord at the city gates scene. Yeah, there's a twist, but not a believable or even particurly well-described one. Typical of Saberhagen's inability (in this series, mind you; I'm not critiquing his body of work here) to follow through on promising beginnings is the character of the Emperor. Saberhagen teases us throughout the series with dark and not-so-dark hints and glimpses of the Emperor; but when he is finally trotted out into the light of day, he is a disappointment. One is left wondering what all the buildup was about. Which is exactly how one is left feeling about the book as a whole.