This is an exceptional historical novel. Set in southern France in the 13th century, this evocation of the Middle Ages is rich in scene and mood, impressive in command of language, highly complex in characterization, delicate in refinement of motivation. Though the focus of the narrative centers on young Wolf de Foix and his search for a meaning to life or even a conviction that life is not an illusion; swirling about him, both conditioning and hampering his choices, are the social, political and religious currents of the times. At 14, Wolf, bastard, shunned son of the bold Ramon de Foix, ran away from the monastery which had become both a shelter and a confinement. He found himself -- he felt by fate -- at Parmier where his aunt the Countess Escharmonde had retreated to devote herself to the mystical heresy of Catharism -- a modified Manichaeism -- a doctrine which enticed the boy by its avowed asceticism. Soon enrolled by his father among the squires of his vassel, Trencavel, Viscount of Carcassonne, Wolf became the object of a derision mingled with envy. He desperately longed for a faith unsullied by the mundane and he was therefore drawn by the piety of the heretics; at the same time he was repulsed by their disavowal of the necessity of working for social justice. Miriam Caravita, daughter of a Jewish financier, with whom he eventually falls in love, has no answers for Wolf: highly intelligent and gifted, she remains a realistic idealist and therefore-something of a cynic. When Pope Innocent's demand for the extinction of the heretics is finally met by Simon de Montfort, a Crusade is led against Carcassonne and its defender Trencavel in which Trencavel, with whom Wolf had found a common bond, is taken hostage and killed. Finally stung into action by the treachery of the Crusaders, the betrayal of his father, the massacre of the innocent, Wolf joins his father at Foix, full of purpose -- only the present counts.