A marathon puff-up of that prime warrior, Crusader, and absentee monarch, Richard I of England--whose recently tarnished, but durable heroic image is here simonized with Rofheart's bland, colloquially modern prose (which can make rampaging and pillaging sound eminently sensible and nobly expedient) . . . while a series of narrators follows Richard's career from youth to death. Among them is a fictional character, glee-singing maiden Blondelza: she loves Richard from the time he felled an ugly knight and was first hailed as the Lionheart (""all of us girls fell a little bit in love with him that day""); she glides in and out of his life, bears him a son; and, after a long absence (as a Christian ""heretic"" she disapproves of bloodletting), she will sing him away on his deathbed. Then there's the knight, Mercadier, who details campaigns in France--where Richard allies with, and tilts against, that slimy plotter Philip of France, his boorish father Henry the II, and various brothers. Three others--Richard's timid little Queen Berengaria, regal Queen Mother Eleanor, and Alexander the monk--offer commentary on Richard's Crusade to the holy land. And Richard himself tells of his youth and, later, the story of his capture, imprisonment, and return to England--where brother John (here a laughing, charming lad) is delighted when Richard confides that he will be the next king: ""Oh, Dickon, shall I? Shall I really? . . . You might have told a fellow!"" The Crusade section is appropriately gore-spattered--since Richard does dreadful things for all the right reasons: he is sorry he must order the execution of 2,600 unarmed prisoners (""l have won . . . a heavy victory""); and when his royal allies accuse him of holding secret meetings with the Infidel leader, he jaunts out day after day and returns with a belt of Saracen heads, only to be accused of savagery (""It seems,"" says Richard, ""I cannot win""). But ultimately Richard always comes out on top, hero-wise: he's courageous, kind, heterosexually lusty, a wise law-giver (when he's home), a great and pure-hearted warrior. Thinly moored to unexamined historical facts, with legends shorn of the real stuff of ancient religious and folk passions, this is dull, overblown novelizing; for the uncritical popular fictional biography Jean Plaidy is better--and quicker.