The first of The Bravehearts Chronicles goes from a horrific prologue into a narrative of two boys: orphaned, abused and fleeing for their lives. William Wallace is ten years old; his cousin James is eight. The hideously disfigured archer, Ewan Scrymgeour, is their unlikely fairy godfather. James’s desire is the priesthood. William’s destiny is unguessable, but in archery he excels even his mentor Ewan. First as forester and would-be family man, then as outlaw, young Will Wallace becomes the ruling spirit in the enormous area of Selkirk Forest. In defiance of the English invaders under their mighty leader, King Edward, and many vacillating Scots lords, he takes the dispossessed into the greenwood under his benign and energetic sway. Learning, feeling his way, he knows this life cannot last. A vital decision made under pressure leads to the pitiful climax and sets the tone for Part Two of Rebel.
This is a serious, finely researched work of fiction. It is not always an easy read: it features a formidable number of people, many of whom have more than one name. A list of characters and at least one map would have been helpful. The astute author has chosen almost too well in making William’s cousin James, now Father James, his narrator. This highly literate priest, utterly dedicated to his hero, subjects readers to some mighty long speeches. It is sad but inevitable that women feature chiefly as victims.
There is a great deal to admire in Rebel, not least the delightful Scots dialect. A description of the time, patience and craft involved in creating just one yew long bow commands respect for both Jack Whyte and Ewan Scrymgeour the archer – never call him a bowman. Highly recommended.
Early Medieval (to 1337)
The Forest Laird
578 (UK), 512 (US)