Old pro Coyle (Until the End, 1996, etc.) strikes out on a new course, chronicling the harsh but enlightening experiences of three combatants in the French and Indian War. At the heart of Coyle's consistently engrossing narrative are: Highlander Ian McPherson (a Culloden veteran exiled to North America in the wake of England's so-called Great Clearance of Scotland); Ensign Anton de Chevalier (bastard son of a minor nobleman, posted to the New France garrison as an officer of artillery); and Captain Thomas Shields (a well-born Londoner who views the colonies as a chance for martial fame and, perhaps, a civilian fortune). In hopes of securing land at the end of his enlistment, Ian marches off in 1754 with a small band of Virginia volunteers under the command of Colonel George Washington--a band that fails, unfortunately, to dislodge the French from Western Pennsylvania. The colonial militia return the next year in company with Redcoat regulars (including Thomas), but with no better results. As the conflict grinds on, it affects the focal characters in various ways. Anton, for example, continues to see God's own glory in the beauty of the woodland battlegrounds, while Thomas (chastened by a near-fatal encounter with a vengeful Indian fighting for the French) lays aside dreams of military honors. As more talented soldiers of the king (Jeffrey Amherst, James Wolfe, et al.) take charge, the tide turns in favor of Anglo-American armies, and in 1759, the Crown's troops win a decisive victory on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City. A gravely wounded Thomas resigns his commission to marry a Hudson Valley heiress, Anton soldiers on, and Ian gets his frontier homestead, plus a lusty Irish lass to share it. Vivid accounts of bloody engagements on New World battlefields where the fate of great empires was decided, and resonant depictions of the men at the sharp end of the bayonet--or tomahawk- -make for a splendid period piece.