This strong sequel to Queen of the Lightning (1983), the author's first book on Britain during the darkest of the Dark Ages (circa A.D. 650), may not be for the average historical-fiction reader due to its cast of ruthless thanes and dames, its regular bouts of bloodshed and thoroughly unromantic picture of the times. Still, for those who can do without the roseate hue, its every sword clank and shield thwack rings with authenticity. It's the story of the tribal wars between several Northumbrian kingdoms: Oswy's Bernicia, the heathen King Penda's Mercia, Alchfrid's Cumbria, and the contested land of Deira. At the start, Oswy's daughter, Alchflaed, meets a young thane from the south, Meilyr, who took part in a Mercian raid on one of her father's strongholds, nearly raping her in the process. On their second meeting, though, at a beach where Alchflaed bathes, Meilyr falls in love with the maid. Alchflaed, however, schemes to get herself wed to the son of King Penda, in the hope that such a liaison will bring peace to their roiling world. At the same time: Oswy plots to take over Delta and lure Penda into pitched battle; Oswy's forces win the day, Penda commits suicide, and Alchflaed is on the verge of leaving her husband to be murdered by his kinsmen, when Oswy tells her that Penda's son is her brother as well as her spouse (due to Penda's rape of Alchflaed's mother). This news--not surprisingly--sends Alchflaed into a tailspin. She takes herself to the pagan holy place of Mare Tor, where she's ready to lay down her life, except that Meilyr finds and saves her. Even though there's a glossary, keeping track of the characters and warring factions in this one is no mean trick, but probably worth the effort for those with an interest in Merry Old England's murky past.