Set amid the political/religious blood-letting and grue of 13th-century France: a boiling-oil-and-hardship saga about poetess Sybille's suffering, within and without, as she longs for Olivier de Ferrand, a bastard knight whose self-loathing prevents him from loving. Sybille is the daughter of wealthy aristocrats from Toulouse and is married at 15 to pleasant Pons de Villeneuve. But Pons, it turns out, will become a follower of the Cathar (or Albigensian) Christianity--Rome's favorite heretics. (Pons is also disapproving of lust.) So Sybille turns to chivalric hero Olivier, especially during the terrible slaughter caused by invading Crusaders and the French: Sybille loses family and property; Pons disappears; Sybille finds herself at one point aiming a stone gun from the walls of Toulouse; and the lovers at last escape to the farmland of Fanjeux, though Olivier is forever deserting Sybille (now a farmwoman/mother) to go off to the wars. Meanwhile, of course, the Inquisition is heating up--with heretic burnings by the Dominican ""Preaching Friars."" The Cathars flee and huddle for sanctuary. But Sybille is scooped up by the Inquisition; since she refuses to divulge the location of Pons, she is starved and tortured, finally escaping only to return to a grumpy Olivier and a daughter who's become a stranger. And finally, after a final heretic-burning at a mountain sanctuary, Olivier leaves on a doomed mission. . . while Sybille drifts away ""wondering if God were watching."" Callous love and gore--a bit over-much of each, delivered in a clattery style that misses all complexities--but those who enjoyed Meade's Stealing Heaven may appreciate the slangy, slam-bang approach to medieval anguish.