I can easily describe Katherine Kurtz The Bishop's Heir in one sentence: Brilliant. This novel, which is book one of the three part Chronicles of King Kelson, is absolutely brilliant. Kurtz weaves a rich tapestry of intrigue and war all set in an alternate reality.
The plot of the story is strong, which is typical of a Kurtz novel. She obviously is well read on medieval History (M.A. in Medieval English History) and religion, which adds a depth to this novel that most fantasy authors could only dream of achieving. Rather than take the worn out theme perfected by Tolkien (and then worn out by subsequent copy cats) she devises a plot based around the desire for power and combines it with racism and genocidal desires (themes from our own time).
No review of this novel would be complete without a discussion of Ms. Kurtz's use of religion to drive the plot. Something most fantasy novels simply brush over is the religion of the characters involved. If, and that's a big if, religion is mentioned, it's usually some bland form of paganism similar to just about every other fantasy novel out there. Not this one. The use of the Catholic Church, along with it's heirarchy of nuns and priests, bishops and monks, gives these books a depth I've not seen in a fantasy novel since, perhaps, the master himself. Like the Lord of the Rings, The Bishop's Heir reads like a great historical novel, rather than a half baked fantasy.
If you are yearning for a good fantasy with some magic, lot's of plot, and well written characters, you've come to the right place.