Insurrection by Robyn Young
Review by Jasper de Joode
Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, November 2012
The King of Scotland is dead. The nobles fight over the succession, unaware that King Edward of England has plans of his own. For years, Edward has nurtured a fierce vision of conquest, inspired by the worlds of an ancient prophecy, that will change the face of Britain forever.
In this divided land, a boy grows to manhood, his family torn apart by ambition and betrayal. The path he takes will never be smooth – he will serve his enemy and betray his friend before he finds himself
But Destiny is waiting to claim him.
His name is Robert the Bruce. And his story beings in insurrection.
After reading the synopsis of Insurrection I thought this would be a medieval story about a fictitious character named Robert the Bruce. But was I wrong after reading the authors note in the back. Most of the characters used in Insurrection are based on real people. In Insurrection the first event prior and leading up to the Scottish War of Independence are told by following Robert the Bruce from a young boy to a guardian of Scotland. My history lessons never went as far in covering this part so I was quite interested in how this would play out in the end. I must admit that I blown away with how the story was told, how the characters were shown and how the book was written.
Insurrection is divided into 6 parts and each part covers a few years, in total the book covers the beginning of 1286 A.D. until 1299 A.D.. This timeline coincides with the First War. What I liked about the division of the book into so many parts was that it became readily approachable for me. Often using a theme of history can make the book quite a burden to tackle but with this division it felt natural and was a great guide through the past historical events. Another feature that I liked in the layout of the book were the flashbacks. Every part was told in real time but on a few occasions there were flashbacks to the past featuring, for example King Edward I in his earlier years, and I found these flashbacks an enrichment to the whole story, allowing more understanding of the characters and their actions.
From the beginning the names of Arthur and Merlin are thrown at you, and I actually thought that the story would centre more around them. However this is not the case, and after the colourful prologue the story takes a turn to the serious side you get thrown right into the Scottish court of King Alexander III with betrayal ongoing. It is what happened in this first chapter that got me hooked. The events leading from the assassination were just one great adventure. After the death of Alexander III the story centres on Robert the Bruce, who you first get to know a young lad being guided into adulthood by his father, but more by his grandfather. It is due to his relation with his grandfather that Robert holds up to certain virtues in his daily life. But you also feel that Robert has a certain pressure on his shoulders to both please his father and grandfather at the same time. In a later part of Insurrection you see Robert struggling again to do what he thinks is right, again being forced to choose between two sides. In his final decision he hopes to undo some of the wrongs that he done so far. A great showcase of the writing style of Robyn Young was in play here; with Robert the Bruce not being a totally fictitious character, there are certain boundaries you cannot cross but Robert was displayed in a great way.
From the English side I found it in particular nice to read about the motives, thoughts and actions of the English King Edward I. Although his chapters are short you do get the idea of his careful planning in disposing of important royal members, as well as his ulterior motive in trying to get one unified Britain under his rule with the help of The Prophecy of Merlin. After Robert has given fealty to Edward I, he meets up with Humphrey de Bohun, who initiates Robert in the Knights of the Dragon. Later on there is heated situation due to this initiation and Robert betrayal of them. Actually it was great to see this Insurrection from three different viewpoints: Robert, King Edward and in a more general birds-eye view. Another noteworthy addition to the storyline that led me to revise my vision of him was William Wallace, who I only knew by his semi-blue face from the movie Braveheart. But now I know that there was much more to his character in the past.
Next to the characters, the settings where the story takes place, from the castles to the battlefield are just spot on and played directly into my imagination. Especially the battlefield scenes, you just see it right in front of you, the lance formations of the English knights charging the shield formations of William. On top of this Robyn Young doesn’t shy away from describing these charge events without any bloodshed. Or telling about a quartering. These added descriptions on top of the world and the characters gave me the true medieval setting.
Insurrection is a great book, even if you’re not aware of the historical underlay of the story. It features betrayal, family feuds, great battle scenes and a very engaging writing style. It shows how Robert the Bruce as a young man grew to be a guardian of Scotland. First having a burden on his shoulders, making wrong decisions and trying to better them and as a higher motive do everything for the betterment of Scotland. As mentioned in the back of the book Robert the Bruce remains more of a grey area and his history is not black and white. Using Robert in this way showed a great versatility in his character and did not require to keep him as he is shown in history. Just to say it again, Insurrection is a great read.
Thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for kindly providing me with the review copy.
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