1 Stars Out Of 5
Poor historically questionable story,
January 16, 2013
Many people have heaped praise upon this series for the quality of the writing style and the author's 'bringing history to life', but I personally do not share such sentiments. It should probably be noted that this was in fact the third novel in the series which I read (though it is the first chronologically) and so I was already quite familiar with the writing style, characterization and to some extent the approach to history used by the author.
As romance novels go, they are passable, and on some levels enjoyable, but I would say not nearly as excellent as some fans have claimed. It seemed to me that they were all rather followed more or less the same formula that a hurting man/woman with issues falls for good-looking girl/guy (usually also with issues) who they can't stand at first, and end up falling hopelessly in love. This often results in a change of the political affiliations of the protagonists at least one of whom usually begins on England's side but â€˜sees the light' before the end of the book, realises how evil the English are, but righteous the cause of Scotland is and switches sides.
In this novel the â€˜hurting woman' is Gwyneth Comyn, a relative of the John Comyn was murdered by none other than Robert Bruce in a church (the author follows the official line that Comyn was an evil traitor and puppet of England who betrayed and provoked Bruce of course). She is separated from her family and her betrothed after the murder, and forced to live incognito, gets raped by the bad guy and is forced into marriage to the hero Adam Mackintosh who just happens to be a close personal friend of Robert Bruce and of course does not know the true identity of his bride.
To cut a long story short, Adam and Gywneth must overcome lots of obstacles and difficulties before the course of their love can run smoothly, the bad guy does lots of nasty things and keeps trying to kill the hero, Gwyn gets persuaded to change sides by her cousin and the War with England begins in earnest.
This formulaic nature of the storyline could make it appear repetitive and predictable, the villains are almost always one-dimensional, and have to go around doing really bad things like rape, murder, or killing children to emphasise how bad they are- yet their actions very often have little or no motivation they just seem to do what they do because they're bad.
It is doubtful that the author's depiction of English and Scottish characters in based on personal first-hand knowledge and so there is a lot of stereotyping. The English characters all speak with ridiculous high-class accents (like in Braveheart and other Hollywood movies) though there are not many of them in this first novel. Many of the Scottish men wear kilts (likely several centuries too early), speak with exaggerated versions of Lowland accents (or Gaelic) but the French that was widely spoken by both the English and Scottish aristocracy of the period is almost entirely absent.
I would strongly advise readers against 'learning' their history of the period from these novels as some claim to have done, for the reasons highlighted in the 'history' section below.
Christianity/Morality As mentioned above, the main female protagonist gets raped towards the beginning of the book, and the man who raped her also attacks other women, but this is not described graphically. A secondary female character who is known for being promiscuous makes advances towards the hero Adam a couple of times, but he does not succumb.
As is also mentioned Robert Bruce murders John Comyn in a church at the beginning of the novel, and other acts of violence take place, or are alluded too, though none of it is very graphic.
Historical It was the historical aspects of this novel and series which were most problematic for me, some of which I think arise from personal bias on the part of the author against the English.
As a result of this, there are whole passages devoted to high-minded self-righteous ranting about the immoral, dishonourable and generally horrible actions of the evil English (some of which are so poorly executed that the author has to highlight the events and state â€˜This is really bad, dishonourable or unchivalrous' in case the audience did not realise before). This causes problems of its own, however, as the Scottish characters still have remain the â€˜good guys' even when they do the same things which they and the author condemns and demonize the English for so there is much hypocrisy and double standards in the characters and author's attitudes and responses to certain actions.
Secondly, the author's apparent need to have the protagonists â€˜support the right' and change sides from Scotland to England because they realise how evil one side is in comparison with the justice and rightness of the cause of the other causes her to have characters representing certain families and switch their allegiance to Robert Bruce who never did so in reality, and were opposed or hostile to him in reality.
These include the Comyns who were not, even though the novel makes some mention of Gywneth's relatives having been killed, but ultimately has she and a surviving cousin going over to Bruce's side. In reality the Comyns almost certainly never changed sides, were dispossessed and had their lands decimated by Bruce, and John Comyn's son fought on the side of England at Bannockburn.
The other problems are that the author fails to grasp the complexities of Medieval Power politics as the background of events, and so often ascribes high moral purposes to actions that were really just self-serving, and oversimplifies the conflicts of the time to have the â€˜righteous' downtrodden Scots (or â€˜Celts') struggling against the malignant evil of the brutal English imperialists.
Hence, the author seems to effectively try and blame the English for the war in Scotland raging in the early part of Bruce's reign, and the strife between Bruce and Comyn. However, the actual and far more significant root cause of this conflict was the shape of a succession crisis predating the English invasion. This lead to civil war in Scotland in which the Bruce and Comyn/Balliol families represented rival claims to the throne, and for which one could not be victorious until it had destroyed. Such long terms realities are largely ignored however, and the English blamed for pretty much all the ill that befalls Scotland.