Richly detailed, first-rate tale of the religious, social, and political conflicts during the colonizing of Maryland (1638--49), based on the extraordinary real lives of real people. Robson's earlier boisterous historicals (paperback originals) dealt with 19th-century trials and tragedy among Native Americans; The Tokaido Road (1991 hardcover) was set in feudal Japan. This time, her story begins aboard a ship (""as ungainly as a gourd"") undertaking a hideous three-month voyage from Bristol, England, to the Maryland plantation of Lord Baltimore. Among those sailing, with varying degrees of fortitude: the upper-caste Catholic Brents; capable intelligent spinster Margaret, land-investing on her own; Margaret's fey, saintly sister, Mary; and two amiable, weak brothers. Down in the hold are the future indentured servants for the colony, including a kidnapped Bristol pickpocket, young Anicah, and another teenaged victim, Martin. At last the boatload of hopeless and hopefuls arrives in Mary's Land--a half-wild, haphazardly planted settlement. On hand to greet the Brents are the worn, gentlemanly governor Calvert and his sheriff, irreverent Robert Vaughan, who will become Margaret's fast friend. Anicah can hardly believe her luck in being indentured to a tavern-keeper (food and drink to pinch and constant revelry!), but Martin fares ill and finally escapes to the local Indian tribe, one of whose members becomes a friend to the Brents. Troubles brew in the form of contentious Virginia settlers, fanatic Protestant enclaves, and in aftershocks from the simmering Cromwell rebellion in England. Meanwhile, Margaret oversees tobacco crops, the stabilizing of a household, and the keeping of a weather eye on the parliament (though as a woman, she's not allowed in). Throughout, these post-Elizabethans react with timeless bravery. Their punishments are cruel, their hierarchies absolute, but there's also song, poetry, bawdy humor, and their period's obsession with love and death. Memorable characters, scenes, and lilting dialogue: a stylish, superior historical.