The second volume, after Faces Under The Water, in Lee's projected four-part ""Secret Books of Venus"" series is set in an alternate medieval Italy and dedicated to the alchemical element fire. Volpa is an innocent slave girl with the ability to call deadly flame from her long, fox-red hair. When her master attempts to rape her as he did her mother, Volpa incinerates him. Word of her mysterious talent reaches the ears of Fra Danielus, a crafty priest who hopes to use Volpa's fire-summoning ability against the invading infidel Jurneians. Cristiano, one of the Bellatae Christi, the holy knights who answer to Danielus, is less certain of the priest's plans. To Crisiano, Volpa--now called Beatifica--appears much more than she seems, ""holy, holy in some incoherent, awful, total way, as a fallen angel might."" Taught to wear men's clothes and ride astride, Beatifica accepts every order without question, first as a slave and now as a fine weapon groomed for war. In her purity, Cristiano finds hope to renew his own weakening faith. But when Danielus finally uses his fiery tool in battle, no one is prepared for the outcome, or the probing questions about the true source of Beatifica's powers. Lee's writing is as entrancing as ever, full of evocative imagery and memorable characters. The questions she raises about faith and hypocrisy, fear and justice, are deftly rendered and not easily answered.(Nov.) FYI: The winner of several World Fantasy Awards, Lee is also the author of the Flat Earth series.