A passionate first novel in which a pair of 12th-century lovers battle for the English crown. When England's King Henry I dispatches his nine-year-old daughter, Maud, to Germany to marry the Holy Roman Emperor, the girl learns what it means to live a life devoted to the interests of the state. Well-educated by her kind, middle-aged husband, Maud is given the rare opportunity for a woman to become literate and multilingual, to negotiate with foreign emissaries and occasionally preside at court. Then widowed at age 23, Maud is summoned back to England to fulfill one more duty for her father: to become his heir to the throne. Such an assignment perfectly matches Maud's eager, ambitious nature. Unfortunately, though, her first cousin Stephen, a much-beloved, golden-haired English warrior, had expected the honor himself. Supported by the aristocracy and the church, who are appalled at the notion of a woman ruling England, Stephen continues to agitate for widespread support even after he and Maud meet and fall in love. As the cousins wait impatiently for King Henry to die, they become clandestine lovers; and after the king's death, their bitter fight for the crown, complicated by their violent emotions for each another, causes the near-destruction of England. Decades later, the English countryside pillaged, the treasury depleted, and most of their closest supporters dead, the stubborn countess and the pleasure-loving king at last unite in a common cause: the future of their illegitimate son. Despite occasional howlers (""Dear God,"" pants Stephen while making love, ""if ever a sheath was forged to fit my sword""), Jones's strong plotting, vivid detail, and stately, almost magisterial pacing should win her a loyal following within the genre. At 608 pages, an economy-sized classic--and a likely winner.