Holland (The Bear Flag, 1990, etc.) returns to pioneer California for her 20th fictional mix of history, blistering action, and romance--set this time in San Francisco, aborning in grit, violence, and an explosive mingle of races and allegiances after the war with Mexico. Among those intent on justice (pursued with knives more than with talk), loyalty, and love is a ragtag group of the homeless and despised. Frances ""Mammy"" Hardhardt, a tiny, fierce, black former brothel cook, is owner and founder of the bar Shining Light in the city where lush, blond Daisy had been sent by the uncle who abused her. Arriving in San Francisco, Frances takes charge, and with the help of would-be writer Gil Marcus, property is secured. Beautiful Daisy sings; Mitya, the half-Aleut, Northwest coast Indian, cast out by his own people, constructs a solid building from an old ship; black Josh oversees the labor, while Laban paints murals. Throughout, Frances's shrewdness and Mitya's knife and Gil's political savvy weather terrors to come: a gross competing bar-owner is out to douse the Shining Light; there are attempts to ""crimp"" (shanghai) Mitya; so-called Regulators--Mexican War volunteers from New York--aim to loot, smash, and govern; and, worst of all, the Vigilantes, also grabbing for power, arrest innocent and guilty alike and execute men by the score. The Vigilante leader is the man Frances had picked out for Daisy. Meanwhile, there's violence aplenty, plus a super-brave, last-minute ploy by Gil, before two lovers and a sick and bitter exile leave the Shining Light--its feuds, searing hatreds, and iron friendships. Holland conveys easily the noise, dust, and bumble of street crowds in the brand-new seacoast city to background a juicy tale of dark action and bright hopes.