Though Cabell, true to his tradition, has given a mythical name to his kingdom of Melphe, this story is not in his usual vein of romantic and satiric fantasy. It is, instead, a sophisticated bit of historical fiction of the debauched and tyrannical rulers of a small Italian kingdom in the 15th century. The kingdom was under disputed rule, and the chronicle of the four illegitimate sons of the Duke is skilfully told. Sometimes brutal, showing them living in bondage to lust and terror -- exceptional in holding power. Marriages of convenience -- tyrannical elimination of undesirables -- the kingdom becoming powerful up to the point of its decline under Lorenzo -- an undercurrent of scandal in the relations of Church and State -- all suggesting a parallel to modern dictatorships, without halting the pace of the story. There is humor, pity, politics, economics and interest for men and women alike. His most readable book in recent years, and the one best keyed to modern taste.