The novel opens with a flashback to Armagh, Ireland, in 1135 with reference to the Staff of Malachy, an ancient relic also known as the Staff of Jesus. It then jumps forward to 1299 and the defeat of the Scots by Edward 1. After the abdication of John Balliol, Robert Bruce is eligible to take the crown of Scotland, but that is the last thing Edward intends him to do. Bruce decides that the only answer is to submit to Edward, pretend to be loyal to him and await his opportunity to take the throne. It is this betrayal of his homeland that is the essence of the story. He is well-known and resented by the Scots in most history textbooks, and Robyn Young digs deep into history and mythology to make the reasons for his behaviour convincing and believable.
When given the opportunity to review this novel, I did so with very mixed feelings. The story of Robert Bruce is dear to my heart, and I have read some dire versions of this period in this country’s history, not to mention the film Braveheart! But I need not have worried. This is superbly written with pace and great attention to detail which results in a ‘cannot put it down’ book. I had not heard of this author before, but will certainly make a point of reading the first in this trilogy and look forward to reading the third.