A dynastic war in Sixth Century Gaul is the obscure setting for a conventional headlong, hamstrung romance. Valrada, daughter of rock-hard Lord Eurik, and his fief Alarik fall in love; but their union, which would be without profit to her father anyhow, is more immediately blocked by his insistence that she marry her malign cousin Rikimer--who just might (read: must) have plotted her beloved brother's death in order to inherit Lord Eurik's domain. But Rikimer, going off to that intrusive, otherwise baffling war, refuses to force himself upon Valrada--what, after all, has he to gain by siring a grandson for Eurik?--so the latter wastes no time after his wife's death (from grief at the loss of her son) in marrying their foster-daughter Brunehaut and callously impregnating her. This show of barbarian mores becomes the hinge on which the plot turns--for Eurik is killed in battle, making his offspring the heir if Brunehaut has a boy. . . or, if the baby is a girl, leaving all to Rikimer. And you can be sure that Rikimer is not about to let nature take its course--not when he can pull that old baby-switch trick. Valrada, meanwhile, is fretting about her brother's unavenged death and begging Alarik, who's also in and out of battle, to seal their love with more than a kiss. And there are other complications demonstrating Frankish-Roman rivalry and pagan-Christian tensions. (There is also, mercifully, a list of characters at the outset.) As if all this folderol wasn't enough, Stiles has a way of telling the story by indirection--and clumsily at that.