Riley's first novel--essentially the picaresque progress of an anachronistically but bracingly and endearingly feminist woman of 14th-century England--is warmly narrated with genial humor, swatches of period grue, and tidy historical background. One of a flock of wandering clerks with pens for hire, Brother Gregory, University-banished son of a horrid Earl, being of sound mind and empty stomach, reluctantly agrees to commit to parchment the memoirs of--of all things--a woman. So Margaret tells her story: dusty poverty, abusive father, and rugged stepmother, marriage to a sadistic merchant who gallops off leaving her with child at the onset of the Plague, safety and a new career with midwife Hilde, and, in the Plague's terrible aftermath, a spiritual invasion of divine grace, a gift to Margaret of a healing touch. Then there are a jolly journeying with a group of enterprising players who live by wit and mischief; an escape from bandits; a trial by fire; immolation of an old enemy; and the dramas of midwifery. Along the way, Margaret will invent forceps for difficult delivery, but this instrument to ease the Bible-ordained curse of Eve leads to an inquisition. Finally, there's happiness with an unusual husband, and later a rousing slaughter of various scoundrels. Riley has not skimped on historical ambiance--fairs, cathedral marketplaces and scholarly cloisters, clerical and laic jurisdictions and boundaries, domestic artifacts--all have been earnestly researched. As in the works of Jean Auel, there is a jaunty, likable heroine of 20th-century mind-set, plenty of action, and a lib slant. A pleasant, energetic entry to the pop-historical-novel big time (with a big advertising budget as well).