By the author of many, many historical novels (and also grim little sagas of concentrated familial nastiness like Vollands, p. 625): a view of the strenuous career of Marie de Guise of France, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, born in 1587, six days before the death of her father, James V. The fictional narrator here is Claudine de Vouvray, resilient and feisty, who is happy to accompany her beloved half-sister Marie de Guise (neither illegitimate Claudine nor Marie ever publicly acknowledges the relationship) to Scotland, where the widowed Marie will be the queen of James V, the dangerously volatile victim of a punishing childhood. The pair accommodate, however, and both are overjoyed when two sons are born--and devastated when the babies die. Their deaths--plus the defeats by the ever-invading English- -destroy the King, and he dies after the birth of Mary. It's then that Marie de Guise begins her perilous rule among powerful neighboring and internal combatants--royals, religious (the ``reformers'' led by John Knox are on the march) and Scottish chiefs and landholders. Through it all--edgy chamber diplomacy, journeys, wars, and horrid deaths--Claudine is Marie's loyal confidante, though she's been driven forth once, after it was obvious that she was carrying one of James V's many bastards. Eventually, Claudine's adventures in love and marriage and rudimentary survival end in France, but Queen Marie dies in Scotland, fighting to the last to preserve the Scottish crown. Hill's conscientious monitoring of the heels and deals can be a rough slog (the snarl of names and multitudinous feuds is formidable), but Claudine and her adventures offer some relief, and this is a plausible portrait of a Queen and her harsh and dismal battle to secure a throne to which her daughter Mary would return to be Scotland's last monarch.