The Lion Wakes
For me, this was a book of two halves. Each scene is vividly told, with unusual phrasing and a knowledgeable eye for detail. At the same time, the dialect and head-hopping point of view makes it hard to keep track of the many characters who progress the story in a disjointed and confusing way. There are wonderful descriptions of Scottish life in 1297, but the author is overly fond of using similes involving bulls, dying horses and generally revelling in the stinking vomit, blood and shite-filled world his colourful characters inhabit.
He mixes fictional and historical characters with great success, and many are likeable. Nobles such as Buchan, Comyn, Balliol and Bruce struggle in Scotland’s civil war, hampered by the fact that not one of them wants to nail his true colours to the family flagpole. They have too much to lose by choosing the weaker side so split their families in order to run with both and retain what they have. Only landless Wallace stands for the idea of a free, united Scotland. The nobles, of course, resent him because he isn’t noble, isn’t one of them.
Edward I, the English king, is a further complication. Many of the Scottish nobles, with great-grandparents who came from Norman France with William the Conqueror, want to retain the lands they hold in England. Edward, of course, expected their loyalty when he declares war on the Wallace faction in Scotland. In this maelstrom, those who suffer most are the landless poor.
I enjoyed this book and was frustrated by it in equal parts, but I recommend it for those who prepared to settle down and read slowly. An easy read it most certainly is not.