Set in the 1100's, this book takes place in Outremer (with one small visit to Byzantium) and explores what it must have been like living in Jerusalem and surrounding areas during that period of time after the First (successful) Crusade and on through the (unsuccessful) Second Crusade.
The author does an amazing job of weaving all the different elements: French or Norman nobles who have lived in Outremer for so long they are now "easterners;" newly arrived "westerners" and how they adapt and fall under the magical spell of the area's culture, heritage & geography; the open enmity between the warring infidels and the Christians; the uneasy alliances with some of the infidels and the devotion of some infidels (Turks and Saracens) who go into service for the noble, ruling families.
Our primary real-life characters are the royal family of Jerusalem - King Baldwin, his four daughters - one of whom is Queen Melisande (married to Fulk, father of Geoffrey Plantagenet & grandfather to the future Henry II). Fulk & Melisande's son is another Baldwin - who becomes King in his own right.
The author skillfully fleshes out the true events and gives depth to the real-life characters with a fictional family - Lady Richildis, her brother Bertrand, nephew Arslan and her fascinating Byzantine husband, Michael Bryennius. The author's research is sound and there is no doubt that, although fictional, these characters also existed even if by another unknown name.
AND - guest appearances by King Louis of France & Queen Eleanor. It is on the Second Crusade that Eleanor so famously accompanies her then husband to Outremer, leading her Lady Amazons. (Fascinating!)
The writing is wonderful! There is a lyrical quality that is simply enjoyable to read. Descriptions, background detail, character development are all what one would hope for in a good, solid historical fiction novel. I thought the pacing of the book was good and sub-plots and secondary characters all added to the overall fabric of the book and were never distracting. (I particularly like Khatub, Lady Richildis' personal Turkish protector!)
I highly recommend the book and would absolutely read other books by Judith Tarr.