In 1290, Scotland was left without a king and at the mercy of a ruthless English monarch, Edward I, who would become known to history as Longshanks, a moniker used by the author, although it was not used at the time of the telling of her tale, to help differentiate him from his son, Edward II, another character in the novel. More pertinent to the novel, Edward I is known to history as the Hammer of the Scots, and any reader of N. Gemini Sasson’s novel can begin to see why.
This book is the first of a trilogy and covers the early shifting among the clans of the Scots as they ally themselves with one of two claimant for the throne of Scotland: Robert the Bruce and John Comyn. William Wallace, the legendary Scottish resistance fighter, is a peripheral character in the book, and James Douglas, another slightly later legend is a young man in this book, fast gaining respect and acclaim. This novel spans from 1290 until 1306.
I have read many books on this subject, and while I think that Ms. Sasson is a good writer when one is discussing basic mechanics and prose style, I do not always think that she does a very good job presenting her history in a clear and orderly fashion. If I were not familiar with the people and events, I think I would have trouble-particularly with regards to following the beginning of the novel, after which she settles into her tale and things become a bit more clear. Another element which drove me absolutely crazy was her use of multiple first-person narrators, especially in the beginning of the novel when the book is also weaving around in time, as the reader is lost both in regards to time and teller. One of the disadvantages of choosing to write a book in first-person narration is that it is limiting. It used to be a cardinal rule that if you wrote a book in that viewpoint you could only have the one narrator; currently it seems to be in vogue with authors to break the rule, yet as I discuss it with readers, very few seem to like multiple first-person narration-it is simply too confusing to try to figure out who is speaking.
Despite the irritation I felt with the choice of way to narrate the story, it is nearly impossible to finish this novel and not continue on with the series, as the characters in the fight for Scottish independence were such compelling men and women and their cause was such a just one, and, as I stated above, Ms. Sasson is quite a good writer. Also, to her credit, while her story was rather discombobulated in the beginning, she did pull things together in the latter half of the book, and I have confidence that the second book will be stronger. Based on other books that I have read, I also believe that the author has done her research and that these books are accurate in their history. For those interested in continuing the series, the second book is Worth Dying For, and the conclusion is The Honor Due a King. Overall, this is a novel I recommend for those interested in learning more about Robert the Bruce, his bid for the crown of Scotland, and Scotland’s fight for independence from England.