Author of many buoyant novels set in the theater world of the Elizabethan era (The Roaring Boy, p. 672, etc.), Marston has a touch that grows heavy when he tackles earlier times. Here again, in this third of a new series (The Ravens of Blackwater, 1994; The Wolves of Savernake, 1993), William the Conqueror is reigning just after the Norman Conquest. The King has sent Ralph Delchard, a soldier, and lawyer Gervase Bret to Herefordshire to settle land claims among Welsh, Saxon, and Norman. The two are confronted at once with the vicious murder of claimant Warnod, burnt to death in his own homestead upon returning from a visit to his betrothed. Warnod's claim is backed by a constantly disappearing charter, but it is the force of arms and men that back the claims of Richard Orbec and Maurice Damville, each in his own heavily fortified castle. Meanwhile, Ilbert the Sheriff, supposedly hunting Warnod's killer, has an agenda of his own. So, too, does bestial Goronwy of Powy's Castle, intent only on capturing and marrying beautiful, aristocratic Angharad, who despises him. Ralph and Gervase work hard to fulfill their mission--swordfights, imprisonments, escapes, and treachery clutter the landscape with every kind and degree of brutality and confusion. A cumbersome saga in which even the dollops of romance seem contrived: It's a patient reader indeed who'll stick to the end--perhaps a dedicated student of English-Welsh history.