cover image The Dragons of Archenfield

The Dragons of Archenfield

Edward Marston. St. Martin's Press, $21.95 (242pp) ISBN 978-0-312-13472-3

This third volume of the Domesday Books (after The Ravens of Blackwater) starts off, literally, like a house afire but peters out into standard costume drama, including the rescue from a castle of a kidnapped princess. The year is 1086, two decades after the Norman conquest, and the setting is the former Welsh stronghold of Archenfield on the quiescent English border. The house fire traps and burns alive Warnod, a Saxon thane scheduled to testify before commissioners of the Domesday Book, a general survey of the country's wealth. On the ground outside Warnod's house, a red dragon, symbol of Wales, is drawn. Which of two Marcher lords, bitter rivals, is bent on creating trouble and why? Soldier Ralph Delchard and lawyer Gervase Bret, Domesday commissioners, aided by the obstreperous, chauvinistic Welsh priest, Archdeacon Idwal, get to the bottom of the mystery but only after two bloody skirmishes. Although Marston clearly sketches his historical setting and the fights for the spoils of war and conquest, a slow pace and some flat prose bog this entry down. (Sept.)