A western soap-opera that spans 23 years and moves from the brink of one disaster to another, related by an omniscient narrator, who tends to editorialize. In 1840, the Redmonds, immigrants from North Carolina, settle west of San Antonio. Wanting to breed and sell good horses, Seth Redmond is instead pressed into service as a Ranger to battle Indians, bandits, and comancheros, later invades Mexico with the US Army, then fights for the Confederacy, all while wife Isabelle and hired hands run the ranch and fight off Indians. Marital bliss for the longtime sweethearts ends when a Comanche rape results in Isabelle's pregnancy and causes a rift that threatens the marriage. It drives Seth into the arms of the beautiful Elena, a high-society Spaniard who spends most of her time eluding the pawing hands of grubby men. In fact, she's had to flee Mexico because she's being stalked by the villainous Yoquito Estavez, who has sworn to possess her. (Of Yoquito's ilk, the narrator tells us they ``were criminal to the core and lived by the morals of hyenas''). Seth's path crosses both Elena's and Yoquito's several times, as it does that of Blood Hawk, an insane Comanche determined to massacre the Redmond family. The real villain, however, is the frontier, which reduces everyone to the level of savage, even the women who bring the only civilizing influence. Ross (Beyond the Stars, 1990) juggles too many characters here to treat any of them in depth and never instills the novel with a feel for the land that would make it first-rate. Still, it's a good read and well-written, often with the touch of a romance writer.