First off, Penman's Richard III (like that of Josephine Tey and others) was wholly innocent of the murders of the two little Princes in the Tower. And, to prove it, she packs this 973-page pageant with sinewy talkalogues--in which the old conundrums surrounding the last Plantagenet king are tirelessly, even legalistically, examined. The Richard here, moreover, is a ""moralist and idealist"" whose ""sense of self became entwined with the ties that bound him to his elder brother,"" Edward IV, that Yorkist ""Sunne in Splendour."" So, throughout the maze of battles, betrayals, and murder--while the Lancastrian forces supporting poor, frail Henry VI are defeated--Richard is the aide, swordsman, and confidant of Edward, ""a tomcat with the luck of angels"" and a canny sense of the distinction between trust and friendship. (Are they the same? ""Not for a King, Little Brother. Not for a King."") Indeed, once king, Edward defeats his powerful friend, cousin Warwick--who objects to, among other things, Edward's marriage to beautiful ""witch"" Elizabeth Woodville. Against Richard's protests, he judiciously has dotty Henry VI murdered--and also brother George, the untrustworthy Duke of Clarence. (George knows that Edward's marriage to Elizabeth is invalid.) But Edward dies inconveniently, at 40. So dear Richard moves in to rescue the two little Princes from Woodville influence, agreeing to take the crown to protect his family from gathering enemies when he learns of the boys' ""bastardy."" And it's the Duke of Buckingham who dispatches them, without Richard's knowledge. (As for the Richard/Anne Neville courtship and marriage, it's a love-match throughout--and Richard's death in battle is a suicide leap motivated by the death of wife and son.) Not the last or best fictional word on old Richard--but clear, vigorously argued, unfussy in idiom (aside from such mixed-jargon lapses as ""The target date be today"") . . . and long enough to last many a reader fight through the winter.