Kay's third excellent fantasy set in the world of The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995) and The Sarantine Mosaic (1999) begins about three centuries after the events of the latter. The place is an alternate Britain, the specific time the era in which a king modeled on Alfred of Wessex (849-99), called the Great, began to make headway against raiders from the north. The times and the battles are presented from several points of view, including those of Bern Thorkellson, a young northern outlaw; Aeldred of the Anglcyn (Alfred); his children; and Cenion, a learned cleric of Llywerth (Wales). Not all the battles involve weapons. The princes of Llywerth struggle with the half-world not accepted by the new faith of Jad, and Aeldred fights to get his lords to learn to use more than their weapons. The Erlings (northmen) struggle for a living, as their lives and land are hard, but realize that raiding is harder than it used to be. A distinguished story that, for those so inclined, poses intriguing historical riddles.