Here, like this season's mammoth Sarum (p. 1027), another attempt to suggest all of the history of England in fiction between two covers. Author of several previous historical sagas (most recently, While Paris Danced), Wright's latest effort is nonetheless as modest as it is earnest. She focuses on a forested ridge in Sussex, near ""The Place Where Weapons May Be Found,"" or so the Forest People of A.D. 70 called it; by circa A.D. 900, it's called Ferenthe, meaning Place of the Fern to Edred, the Saxon who sees his settlement there destroyed by marauding Vikings, but who lives to claim revenge, swinging a, sword among the forces of King Aelfred. Around the time of the Norman Conquest, a stalwart French sergeant teams up with a clever ancestor of Edred to see to it that what's now Fernet-le-Foret remains freely held land. Four hundred years later, it's still free land, though its sons have run off to fight "". . .for Harry, England, and St. George,"" and one hundred years after that, it's an ironworks, Furnace Green, with a master who's martyred during the brief reign of Bloody Mary. Devoted to the lives of England's humble folk, its ""common clay,"" this book is, thus, a trifle drab, and sometimes frustratingly overdetailed. Still, its characters ring true, its style pleases, and its free-flowing Anglophilia will certainly be appreciated by those like-minded.