Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Review: The Crown in the Heather by N. Gemini Sasson

In 1290, Scotland is without a king. Two families-the Bruce's and the Balliol's-vie for the throne.

Robert the Bruce is in love with Elizabeth de Burgh, the daughter of an adherent of the ruthless Longshanks, King of England. In order to marry her and not give up his chances of someday becoming King of Scots, Robert must abandon his rebel ways and bide his time as Longshanks' vassal.

But Edward, Longshanks' heir, doesn't trust the opportunistic Scotsman and vows to one day destroy him. While quietly plotting his rebellion, Robert is betrayed by one of his own and must flee Longshanks' vengeance.

Aided by the unlikely brilliance of the soft-spoken young nobleman, James Douglas, Robert battles for his throne. Victory, though, is never certain and Robert soon learns that keeping his crown may mean giving up that which he loves most-his beloved Elizabeth. 

Synopsis courtesy of amazon.com

My Review

3.5 Stars

The Crown in the Heather is the first novel in N. Gemini Sasson's Bruce trilogy, a series of novels chronicling Robert the Bruce's rise to the Scottish throne and Scotland's fight for independence.  Told from the perspectives of Robert the Bruce, James Douglas (a young Scottish nobleman) and Prince Edward of Caernavon, son and heir of King Edward I of England, the novel brings to life a period and place not commonly subjects of historical fiction. 

This novel is well-written and the overall story engaging.  In addition, the descriptive prose helps to create a solid sense of time and place.  Nevertheless, the novel does have a few weaknesses, the most significant of which are Gemini Sasson's use of multiple narrators and her characterization of Robert the Bruce.  Although I don't generally have an issue with multiple narrators, the shifts in narration were jarring rather than smooth, interrupting the flow of the story.  As for the characterization of Robert the Bruce, the main protagonist of the novel, the reader doesn't get a strong sense of what drove him to become a rebel and seek Scotland's throne. 

My final issue with the novel, which I don't consider a weakness as it is a matter of personal preference, relates to the book's lack of historical complexity.   While I felt the history presented in the novel to be interesting, it was a little too simple for my tastes -- Scottish politics during this period were quite complex, but this novel makes it seem as if this wasn't so.   In her author's note, Gemini Sasson does acknowledge that things were more complex than she has presented.   

Despite my misgivings, I enjoyed the novel and look forward to reading the remainder of the trilogy.   This novel should appeal to fans of historical fiction.

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.