This hefty prequel, set 1,000 years before Lisle's Secret Texts trilogy (Diplomacy of Wolves, etc.), which chronicled a struggle between the good-wizard Falcons and the bad-wizard Dragons, lacks the trilogy's polish but is likely to appeal to the same adolescent and adolescent-at-heart audience who will be attracted by the teenage-vampiry jacket art. The original Hars Ticlarim empire, overtly run by the Dragon Council but in fact manipulated by the super-secret cadre of Inquestors, offers its ruling elite fabulous mansions in the clouds and beneath the seas all fueled by incinerating the bodies and souls of hordes of hapless Warreners, people kept obese and mind-numbed by their fiendish rulers. Young Wraith, born in the Warrens but mysteriously able to resist Dragon magic, escapes to the upper city, where Solander Artis, talented son of a powerful Dragon, befriends him and helps him found a rebellion led by the elusive playwright Vincalis the Agitator, against the Dragons and the Inquestors. Wraith and Solander hurtle feverishly from one perilous predicament to another, the would-be breathless narrative pace mostly hamstrung by the author's awkward mlange of contemporary technobabble and supposedly magical lore. Even Lisle's arch villain, Luercas, is defanged by his reliance on such modern conveniences as a "panic button." For all its fast, often bloodthirsty action, this intended duel between lukewarm good and mingy evil comes off as an inflated contest of whiners. (Mar. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.