Protestantism is sweeping the land and threatens the position of the Catholic Morlands, so they must seek new spheres of influence. John, the heir, rides north to the untamed Borderlands to wed the daughter of Black Will Percy, Northumberland cattle lord. But he finds he must first prove himself, and win her heart through blood and battle. John’s gentle sister Lettice is given in marriage to the ruthless Scottish baron, Lord Robert Hamilton, and in the treacherous court of Mary, Queen of Scots, she learns the fierce lessons of survival.
The third book in the Morland saga brings back Nanette, Paul and their respective families. Their children are now adults and marriages have to be arranged to consolidate their wealth and power during Queen Elizabeth's reign. Although Nanette and Paul still yield considerable power in the Morland house hold, despite Nanette being mostly away at court, this is the time that sees the generation of Jan, John, Lettice and their siblings and cousins reach adulthood and while some obey the patriarch´s wishes, others decide to follow their own path. The breach between the generations goes further as the older still follow the old religion and the young ones adopts the new one.
The historical background brings forth Queen Elizabeth's most important political events, the reign and fall of Queen Mary of Scotland and the problems in the border. While I did not feel that this time the characters were in the middle of the political intrigue, they are used to tell us those realities. Jan, Nanette's adoptive son, finally finds the truth about his parentage and that seems to widen the gulf between him and his mother. I have to say that I thought it interesting that Harrod-Eagles should have included in her story Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr, that here becomes Jan's wife, and of which nothing is known after her second birthday.
While Jan and his wife want to fight to become masters of Morland Place, John is sent away to marry Mary Percy. I quite liked this Mary, totally unlike the other female Morlands, she is a warrior and a leader that fascinates John who feels he must woo her carefully and quite differently from what he was used to. Through Lettice we see the events in the Scottish court, a dangerous place where the lords had to change allegiance each time someone controlled the queen. I can't say I much liked Lettice's husband, he seemed the consummate political courtier who sacrificed everything for his political goal. Through others of the young generation we get to know the theater world or Sir Francis Drake's expedition.
While I did enjoy the historical background I think it was the characters that stood out for me in this story. There are moments of doubt, fear, pain but also happiness. Some feelings are timeless and it is easy to feel with these characters. It did strike me, reading this story, that nowadays we almost take for granted that we will have long lives or at least good health care. For these Morlands death was something that came often and fast taking away their loved ones.