Taking full advantage of the poetic license that fiction affords, award-winning social-historian Kluger returns with a sixth novel (Un-American Activities, 1982, etc.), painting the popular legend of Robin Hood and his nemesis in an intriguing, entirely different light. Sheriff Philip Mark shines forth from the outset as a veritable paragon of virtue, arriving at Nottingham Castle in 1208 with his family to take up his position as a reward for battlefield service rendered to King John in France. In contrast to the pilferers and scoundrels who preceded him, and in spite of the inclinations of nearly all who serve him, Philip quickly establishes his tenure as a model of propriety and decency, in which his loyalty to the King can never be doubted. Aided primarily by Sparks, his faithful, keen-witted adviser whom he raises from castle obscurity, and his eminently practical wife Anne, who advances his cause in her own way--satisfying her needs in the bargain--the Sheriff gains general respect and no small amount of enmity from those over whom he gains the upper hand. His oath of obedience is sorely tried at times, never more than when called upon by his enraged King to hang a group of well-born Welsh lads held hostage in the castle, but he remains true to the end, hoping for but never receiving knighthood as his just due. In his tenacious struggle to retain honor and dignity the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest play a minor, largely comic role, while the broader historical pageant involving the King, the Church, and conditions leading to the Magna Carta receives full consideration. Vivid though the pageantry is, the Sheriff himself is too noble for his own good; his ethics prove predictable and tedious, and spoil an otherwise impressive saga.