The author has managed some agreeably plausible portraiture in this most secular chronicle of love, lust and lamentation in the court and countryside of Henry II. The author's Henry -- power-chary, taut as a longbow, and free with women -- is an eager participant in his friendship with his Chancellor, Thomas a Becket, a shrewd and capable cleric on the rise. Thomas, although fond of an extravagant table, is immaculate in his living habits (desiring neither sex) but he is vulnerable to such unclerical thrills as leading an army or savoring his political potency. The famous confrontation is not reached in the course of the novel but the stage is set. Henry, soured by the death of his beloved pagan English mistress Hikenai, feels he owes no debt to God or His advocates, and Thomas is about to test the bounds of the King's tolerance. Throughout a bevy of women are violated, and/or transported with love's delights and dangers -- Eleanor of Aquitaine smolders and burns, flaxen-haired Hikenai returns to the old religion and is taken by an antlered god, and lesser ladies echo the royal dalliance with their inamoratas. Inventive and busy.