Another angst-filled, detail-loaded chapter (the ninth) in the chronicles of Lord Westfield's Men, an Elizabethan Age acting company whose usual venue is the yard of the Queen's Head Inn (The Laughing Hangman, 1996, etc.). This time, a performance viewed by beautiful young visiting Princess Sophia Magdalen results in an invitation to perform at the court of Emperor Rudolph of Bohemia. Since the plague is ravaging London, Nicholas Bracewell, the company's masterful manager, decides to accept, using an abbreviated troupe headed by blazing lead actor Lawrence Firethorn and including versatile newcomer Adrian Smallwood, a younger version of Nicholas. For part of the journey, the manager will have the company of Anne Hendrick, his landlady and true love, as she's to visit her late husband's dying father in Holland. Before leaving, Nicholas accepts a packet of documents and a tiny box, both to be delivered to famed astrologer-scientist Talbot Royden at the Bohemian Royal Court. The harrowing sea voyage to the Dutch port of Flushing ends in tragedy, though, when Adrian is found stabbed to death in a killing that Nicholas is certain was meant to be his. Then it's overland to Cologne and Frankfurt, where Anne rejoins them, and finally to Prague, where, it turns out, the troupe's plays are to be part of Princess Sophia's wedding celebration, and where Nicholas discovers that Talbot Royden has been imprisoned by an unhinged Emperor Rudolph. There's more, much more, before a kidnapped Anne is rescued and a deadly morass of religious intrigues and spying, complete with codes, is uncovered. A vastly overpopulated and overplotted story that still manages to provide some humor and suspense along with a richly colorful history lesson.