It is a novel as thick with adventure and action as it is with emotion and drama. Based on the historically recorded life of the Carolingian king and Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, and on the exploits of his more legendary subject Roland a.k.a. Orlando, this epic piece of historical-legendary fiction is set in the late first millennium CE, when Frankish political and military muscle dominated Western Europe.
The story follows the rise of Charles from king to emperor, from his holy wars against uppity Saracens and Saxons to his personal battles to keep ahead of the political machinations among his courtiers and vassals. In parallel, it lays out some of the colorful legends surrounding the parentage, exile, return and death of Roland, based in part on bits of the epic Song of Roland and fleshed in with characters and adventures of fiction.
Narrated with flourish as a liberal medieval scholar's lecture to his pupil, it is an trove of both historical detail and legend about the period. Personally, I was more interested in the former, unfortunately served in smaller portions, but the rich (albeit fictional) tales of the star-crossed lover, the noble paladin and the knight errant kept my interest throughout. Another good point is the way the book goes into the minds of the characters, exposing their schemes and motives in good order. Highly recommended, especially to fans of historical fiction.