Witchcraft and courtly intrigue add spice to this winner of England's Historical Novel Prize, making the 16th-century family saga an unusually complex, captivating debut. It is 1557 and young Elizabeth has ascended the throne, but the provincial Woodfall clan of Sussex is too busy arranging marriages, annexing land, establishing households and providing themselves with a new generation of heirs to pay much attention to royal pomp and circumstance. Nevertheless, while the adult Woodfalls--Edward, a mild-mannered farmer who lost a leg during his one youthful adventure; Agnes, his illegitimate sister whose mother was burned as a witch; and Thomas, the eldest brother and heir who has married a harridan--tend to domestic issues, the intrigue at Elizabeth's court begins to envelop their children. First, Agnes's foster child, Robert, is kidnapped, brought to London, and raised without affection as a future royal clerk and/or assassin. Robert grows up to watch the blame for a supposed Catholic plot to unseat the Queen fall unfairly on the Woodfalls. Loyal to the Crown (his only known family), Robert aids in the taking of two Woodfall cousins, Cecily and Rose, as hostages while their fathers are arrested for treason. It is only when he falls in love with sunny Cecily and discovers his relationship to her loving family that the Queen's cold, handsome, and rigidly disciplined servant finds it in himself to risk his life for others' survival. A shadowy tale whose passion, suspense and vivid imagery keep the pages turning.