The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter

 Bruce Trilogy cover

The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter is the second book in his Robert the Bruce trilogy. The first one The Steps to the Empty Throne ended with the disastrous battle of Methven in Perthshire, when Bruce and his army were attacked during the night as they slept. That made Bruce realise that he would have to ditch his chivalric behaviour and adopt dirty tactics as the English King Edward I did. Previously The Bruce and King Edward I had been fairly friendly and the two countries had been on good terms.

In this book Scotland’s main castles are inhabited by the English as are many smaller castles and strongholds. King Robert is having a hard time with people who don’t recognise him as king and as usual the many clans in Scotland who have been at each other’s throats for generations are still causing problems. When he learns that his wife, daughter and sister have been taken prisoner by King Edward, and that they and his brothers had been handed to the English by a fellow Scot – the Earl of Ross – the gloves are off so to speak, especially when he’s told that the women have been hung in cages which dangle from various city and castle walls.

The Bruce begins the task of slowly grabbing back the smaller castles from the English invaders, using the guerilla tactics he learned from William Wallace. Slashing and burning the lowland parts of Scotland which the invading English army had to pass through, making sure that there was nothing left for the army to eat or even any shelter for them. That must have been heartbreaking for Bruce as the Border country had been his. There’s a lot of fighting in this book, interspersed with some bedroom action which I suppose is Tranter’s attempt to sex it up and bring in some variety.

This was a good read which ends on a high with the Battle of Bannockburn where Bruce used his knowledge of the surrounding land close to Stirling to win against a massive English army led by Edward II. I hadn’t realised quite how huge the English army had been, when the first of them marched into the Stirling area the end of the army was still marching through Edinburgh over twenty miles away! It must have been a terrifying sight.

Unfortunately I’ll have to wait a while before reading the last of this trilogy as I had to take the omnibus edition back to the library instead of updating it as someone else had requested it. I have plenty of other books to choose from though and will take a rest from historical fiction for a wee while.

The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter

 Bruce Trilogy cover

The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter was first published in 1969 and it’s the first of a Bruce trilogy. I do think though that Tranter was a bit generous with what is known of the history regarding Robert the Bruce, at one point Bruce comes to the aid of William Wallace at the end of a battle, something which almost certainly didn’t happen. In the early days Bruce was known for not being where he should be – when it came to battles. I suspect this was because he had had quite a close relationship with Edward I of England – before Edward became known as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’.

Scotland had always been an independent country but when King Alexander III fell off his horse and died at Kinghorn in Fife (see his memorial at the location here) and then his daughter (The Maid of Norway) – who had been his heir died, that left a power vacuum and that’s what this book is about. The Scots made a huge mistake in asking their neighbour King Edward of England to help to choose between the candidates. Edward decided that John Balliol should get the top job but he had decided to take over himself in Scotland and Balliol was really just Edward’s puppet. As you can imagine this didn’t go down well with the Scots who ended up getting rid of Balliol and signed a treaty with France, always England’s enemy. Edward took this as an excuse to invade Scotland and so began the Wars of Independence. As ever though the Scots were as much at each other’s throats as at war with the English.

A few battles are fought but the book is much more than that. Bruce is a widower but by the end of the book he has remarried so there’s romance too, despite Edward’s manipulations. There’s the difference between William Wallace’s guerrilla warfare and Bruce’s chivalric leanings which he had to give up when Edward’s dirty tricks led to Bruce’s defeat in battles. The manner of Wallace’s execution also enraged so many Scots – so the gloves were off. Bruce had always been keen to avoid being excommunicated by the pope, but inevitably that happens, he was reminded that the Scottish church had originally been a Celtic church and it had been obliterated by Queen Margaret (King Malcolm’s wife) who replaced the Culdees with the Benedictines that she had grown up with. Suddenly excommunication didn’t matter any more.

I’m really looking forward to the next one in this trilogy The Path of the Hero King.

Book Purchases

We were in Edinburgh on Tuesday, right in the middle of the city – Princes Street, we don’t often go there but I wanted to visit the Habitat store. It was a bit of a shock to discover that Habitat has gone from Edinburgh, I knew the one in Glasgow had closed. I suppose we have the internet to blame for that, apparently it closed about five years ago and I’ve only just found out, so obviously they never made much money from me.

Anyway, we rarely go to Edinburgh without visiting Stockbridge, the secondhand bookshops are far more my cup of tea than the shops in Princes Street, or Shandwick Place for that matter. Stockbridge is about a 20 minute walk from the centre of Edinburgh and it’s like a wee separate town, with lots of independent shops – and charity shops of course. You can see some images of parts of Stockbridge here.

I was lucky bookwise as you can see.

books

A lot of them are childrens books, but I like to catch up on what I missed out on as a child. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Nancy Drew book, but I know that Joan @ Planet Joan is a big fan so I couldn’t resist buying:

The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene.

The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank Baum. I’ve yet to read The first Oz book although I have the second.

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff. It’s about Britain just after the Romans left, a dark time of change and upheaval. (Does it remind you of anything?!)

Once Upon a Time by A.A. Milne. This book was first published in 1917 but my copy is a 1962 reprint. It’s a series of hilarious adventures apparently – involving a cloak of darkness, magic swords and seven league boots. It sounds like fun – for children of all ages.

A Folly of Princes by the Scottish author Nigel Tranter is set in Fife where I live and involves some of the local castles and King Robert III, it should be interesting as although Tranter wrote fiction his books were well researched.

Crime at Christmas by C.H.B. Kitchin was first published in 1934 but this one is a 2015 reprint by Faber and Faber. I’m going to keep this one fro Christmas reading.

Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes – another Scottish author – was first published in 1938 and it was recommended to me by a blogger yonks ago. I have read a lot of his books, including the ones he wrote under the name J.I.M. Stewart and I always enjoy his writing.

I think you’ll agree that I had quite a successful day in Edinburgh – despite not being able to do my planned shopping in Habitat.

Right Royal Friend by Nigel Tranter

Right Royal Friend cover

Have you ever read anything by Nigel Tranter? When I added this book to Library Thing I noticed that only nine people have done so, I think that’s the lowest ever for me.

Anyway, Nigel Tranter was a Scottish author of historical fiction, amongst other things. He wrote more than 90 books and when he died in 2000 there must have been a queue of books waiting to be published because his books were still being published in 2007. This one was published in 2003. If you’re into Scottish history his books are a painless way of learning about it because they are historically correct and he wove his stories around the facts.

Right Royal Friend is mainly about David Murray, the second son of Sir Andrew Murray, and how a chance meeting with the then 14 year old King James VI of Scotland on a Scottish hillside led to him becoming a close friend of the monarch.

Queen Elizabeth I of England has James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots in captivity but James is only concerned with being named as Elizabeth I successor.

This is the first book by Tranter which I’ve read and I must say that I enjoyed it, but I have to say that there is necessarily quite a lot of info dumping which most Scottish people would probably already know about. I enjoy reading descriptions of landscapes and for me that was a bit lacking in this book, which is strange because I think of that as being a feature of Celtic writers.

The settings happen to be very close to where I live in Scotland and I’ve been in all of the castles and palaces which are mentioned so it was easy for me to imagine myself there but for other readers I think it would have added atmosphere if the buildings and villages had been better described too. I suppose that would have made the book a good bit longer though.

Anyway, I’ll certainly read more by Nigel Tranter and I’d recommend his books, especially to anyone who would like to know what was going on in Scotland’s history at a time when it tends to be England which is concentrated on. I think his books would be interesting for anyone visiting Scotland and intending to visit historic places.

Library book sale

You know what it’s like when you look forward to something for ages, you can almost guarantee that you’re going to be disappointed. Well that’s how I felt when I got to the library sale at the Adam Smith Theatre last Saturday.

Mind you after having perused my haul again – I’ve got a bit of a cheek not being happy with it, it’s just that I didn’t get anything which I had really been looking for.

So this is my haul:

The Borley Rectory Incident by Terrance Dicks
Morning Tide by Neil M Gunn
Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer
The Foundling by Georgette Heyer
The Nonsuch by Georgette Heyer
Arabella by Georgette Heyer
Middlemere by Judith Lennox
Flambards by K M Peyton
Right Royal Friend by Nigel Tranter
Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I must admit that I prefer Heyer’s detective stories to her romances but I’ll get around to these ones sometime.

Nigel Tranter is a Scottish writer who writes good historical fiction.

I can hardly believe that I’ve not read To the Lighthouse yet.

I enjoyed Updike’s Rabbit series so I thought I’d give this one a go although it seems to be very different being about the king and queen of Denmark before the action of Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins.

Neil Gunn is another Scottish author of the 1930s.

I had meant to borrow something by Judith Lennox for a while now but hadn’t got around to it.

Flambards was a bit of pure serendipity because I had seen the book somewhere on the internet just a few days before and I hadn’t even realised till then that it was a book. I really enjoyed the series of that name when it was on the TV years ago. This was in the childrens section and I left it until late on before picking it up in case a kiddywink should want it – but it was left there looking forlorn so I didn’t feel that I was depriving anyone of it.

The Borley Rectory Incident is another junior library book and it’s written by the chap who wrote a lot of the Doctor Who books. Gordon went through a phase of wanting those books as bedtime stories and I just want to know what this one is like compared with them.

Now that I look at them all carefully I don’t know what I was moaning about at the beginning of this post, I’m quite pleased with my haul. Now I just need the time to read them all.