King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

King Hereafter cover

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett was first published in 1982 and as is usual with Dunnett’s books it’s a weighty tome with 721 pages. I loved this one, it’s one of those books that I just didn’t want to end and I felt quite bereft when it did – and of course it’s a stand alone book so I won’t be able to meet up with any of the characters in the future. I’m so glad that we travelled to Orkney last year because I had been to all of the locations mentioned there and everywhere else in Scotland, even the small historic town nearest to where I live got a mention.

In this book the author has decided that the Viking Thorfinn Sigurdsson and Macbeth are one and the same person, with Thorfinn taking the name Macbeth when he was baptised a Christian.

Times were very violent in 11th century Scotland and leaders/kings often didn’t last all that long back then with Viking raiders and more local rivals vying to be top dog. So as with Dorothy Dunnett’s other books – it’s all go – never a dull moment.

I found this one to be a lot more straightforward than some of her others. The endpapers feature a detailed family tree of the Kings of Scotland (Alba) and the Earls of Northumbria (England), but I didn’t need to refer to them. I can imagine that I’ll re-read this one though as I’m sure I’ll get even more enjoyment out of it the next time around.

As it happens I was walking in Birnam Wood a couple of days ago, but I did a post about it way back in 2010 (where does the time go?!) so if you want to have a look at some of the ancient trees have a look here. The photos don’t give an impression of how big they are.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

The Game of Kings cover

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett was first published in 1962 and it appears in the 100 Top Scottish Books. It’s the first book in a series of six which are described by many as historical romance but I would say that romance keeps a fairly low profile, which is fine by me.

It took me about five days to read this book and it isn’t really one for bedtime reading, you have to concentrate on the storyline which has plenty of twists and turns. Quite early on I thought to myself that Dunnett’s writing reminded me of Sir Walter Scott, very wordy and convoluted. Then it dawned on me that she was writing about Scott’s ancestors, he was apparently very proud of his Border riever antecedents and Will Scott and his father Wat (Walter) feature quite a lot in this book.

The Scottish Border country in the past has been notorious for violence and double dealing, with the land constantly being fought over and changing hands from Scots to English. The upshot of all that is the people living in the Border country tended to be on neither side, except their own, so the Border families were well known for being on neither side and just looking out for themselves.

The year is 1547, it’s a time which is known as The Rough Wooing when Henry VIII was determined to arrange a marriage between his son Edward and the child Mary Queen of Scots and prevent her from marrying the French dauphin and thus forming an alliance with France.

It’s a time of intrigue and Francis Crawford of Lymond is back in Scotland after having been a galley slave on a French boat. He’s still an outlaw in Scotland as the evidence against him points to him being a traitor to his own country. He’s an awkward character and in some ways his own worst enemy but he has great charisma.

I really enjoyed The Game of Kings and I’ll definitely be reading the other books in the series. I especially like books which have a local setting for me and just about every place that was mentioned is known to me, with Dumbarton, especially, being mentioned a lot and that is of course the town I grew up in. I just had to imagine places as they would have been about 500 years ago, very easy when it’s places like Stirling, Linlithgow and Haddington.

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.