Continuing her undisputably superior fictionalizing of Plantagenet history, Jarman (We Speak No Treason, The King's Grey Mare) now turns to the 15th-century reign of Henry V, wisely concentrating not on Henry or the Hundred Years War or the feuding Lancasters and Yorks but on Henry's queen and widow, Katherine de Valois. Why Katherine? Because her nightmarish early royal family life--the book's first section--is relatively unfamiliar and grimly fascinating stuff: mad king Charles of France (KÃ‰ti's father), his estranged, promiscuous queen, his ambitious dauphins, the ruthless rival regents, and the calming presence of Katherine's sister Isabelle, the child-widow of England's murdered Richard II. But more profoundly, Katherine is the link to England's future. After she happily weds ailing Henry (who is invading her country at the time), after she bears a son and buries the king, she will struggle with the barons for control of the child-king and she will fall in love with the late king's favorite soldier-singer, a Welsh bard named. . . Owen Tudor. Though the English see this liaison (never quite legal) as one between a ""crazy whore"" and ""Welsh scum,"" it is the grandchild of that union who will found ""the greatest dynasty that Wales ever set out to rule over England."" Jarman, while sketching in all the basic history one needs to know, avoids most Famous Moments (she attempts St. Crispin's Day, paling beside the bard) and lingers long on the imagined and the esoteric: Owen's mystical Welsh background (prophesies and such), his dying days in prison, young Henry VI's brooding over the murder of Joan of Arc. Except for a few heavy-breathing romantic flushes, Jarman's dialogue is downright stageworthy, and her prose is a model of tasteful fulsomeness and forceful detail. Scholarship, psychology, suspense, and sentiment in good proportions--characters who come readymade with resonance and sheer size. . . . Hail!