Anne Rice's older sister debuts with a historical, set in ninth-century Europe at the time of Charlemagne, chronicling the rise of Christianity and resistance to the Northern worshippers of Odin. After Elin of the Forest People and Owen, 23-year-old bishop of Chantalon, save each other's lives, Elin chooses to bond to Owen as his wife. But when she tells him that she's pregnant from having been raped many times over, his anger floods, then abates when he sees himself as the spiritual father of any child Elin bears. Elin, however, wants revenge on her despoilers, the Vikings, who have decided to winter on an island near Chantalon and have built themselves a stout longhouse and a hall. Meanwhile, Owen's bishopric is in ruins, stripped of its wealth by its lordan old, lecherous, drunken, and cowardly count who buys off the Vikings with his people's harvests and savings. Elin offers Owen the services of the Forest People, a supernatural race with no fear of anyone, even though Owen sees them as mere pagans who follow witchcraft. Nonetheless, when the count's leading henchman, Gerlos, meets Owen in battle and the two fall into a blazing fire, only Owen emerges unburned, causing his people to consider him a saint. Later, after Owen is captured by the Northmen, Elin becomes mistress of Chantalon and its chief defender. Three energies lift, or try to lift, the novel: its descriptions of battle, with flying axes and hacked flesh; its supernatural overlay, with Owen haloed against death and with a storm called down by Elin to drown the Northmen; and the effortful love behind scenes that often sound sucked from Rice's pseudonymous sex trilogy: ``He was not in, but within her, and she unfolded herself to him as the petals of a flower open to the sun. They drifted together on a golden river of joy.'' Overall, though: a saga densely detailed, rich, and gripping.