Another gutsy, dagger-flashing, chain-rattling, wit-wrestling tale of danger, dark agonies, and royal power-plays, by Finney (The Firedrake's Eye, 1992, etc.), again centered in the 16th-century reign of that complex, brilliant, and terrifying Tudor, Elizabeth I of England. Set four years after the events of Firedrake (in which the queen was saved from assassination), the story here picks up with the search for a book containing Elizabeth's youthful confession, a personal diary that, if found by enemies, could topple her Crown. In 158687, the Thames freezes and Londoners play on the ice, while in the Tower a soldierly man without a memory (thanks to a blow to the head) is being tortured as a ``Papist'' at the direction of spymaster Davison, a religious fanatic among the Queen's advisors. The prisoner, David Becket, turns out to be not what he seems, and he's eventually moved to Fleet Prison, where he finds that his cellmate is Simon Ames, presumed dead, his former friend and partner in saving the Queen. Eventually, David and Simon, with the help of a Catholic priest, manage to escape Fleet. Meanwhile, plotters, spies, and counterspies are hard at work: David and the priest (with different agendas) work in harness to trace the diary; ancient Mary, a drunken ex-nun in rags, hides it, planning a dowry for her grandchild; the ``Queen's Fool,'' Thomasina, a minute person ``a yard high,'' profitably roams London's streets in the guise of a child; and back at the palace, Elizabeth faces blackmail. Many will die, but Elizabeth, once ``bent like a damascene steel blade . . . whips back with devastating effect.'' A hot-blooded, noisy cast, including the great Queen; shudderingly graphic details of torture chambers and executions; and an exhilarating facsimile of the grandeur and grunge of Elizabethan London: in all, a roaring good tale, with a poetic sensibility and judicious sense of humanity at its core.