(Cover picture courtesy of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.)
On the 11th of June in 1488, two armies meet in battle at Sauchieburn, near Stirling. One fights for King James the Third of Scotland, the other is loyal to his eldest son, Prince James, Duke of Rothesay. Soon, James the Third is dead, murdered as he flees the field. His army is routed. Among the dead is Sir Thomas Sempill of Ellestoun, Sheriff of Renfrew, whose son and heir, John, escapes with his life. Once John’s career as knight and courtier seemed assured. But with the death of his king, his situation is fragile. He’s the only surviving son of the Sempill line and he’s unmarried. If he hopes to survive, John must try and win favour with the new king. And deal with the ruthless and powerful Lord Montgomerie. . .
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
I have to admit that I know pretty much nothing about Scottish history so after reading Fire and Sword I can confidently say that I actually learned something new. Even better, most of it is accurate and based on the real life of John Sempill in a time of turmoil and civil war.
Although we do get to see a couple of different viewpoints, the main character is undoubtedly John Sempill. Poor John is not very inclined toward violence but at his father’s behest fights for the King of Scotland against the king’s own son James. It’s there that he’s defeated and finds his own father’s body after learning that the young rebel James has won the throne.
John is plagued by uncertainty throughout the whole novel as to his fate because he fought for the losing side. His father even died on the losing side. Luckily even though he’s not exactly in a position of power, Lord Montgomerie eventually takes him under his wing and the two of them form a rather uneasy alliance. One of the things that stood out for me the most in Fire and Sword were Louise Turner’s characters. John was very memorable as he grew from a sort of clueless teenage boy to a slightly more confident, wise young man. The most memorable was (surprisingly) Lord Montgomerie, who is the sort of man that would be very hard to deal with in real life but is easy to love as a character in fiction. He’s a law unto himself and isn’t always the most diplomatic but when he forges friendships they last a lifetime.
This is by no means a fast-paced novel. It is, however, highly detailed and well paced so that the narrative eventually sucks you in and doesn’t let go. The tension slowly ratchets up not only because of the events of the time but because of how the characters react to them. John himself creates quite a lot of the events of the novel with his little rebellion so you could say that this novel is both character-driven and plot-driven. Whatever it is, it works and I couldn’t put my Kindle down.
Since I knew nothing of the period what I really appreciated was Louise Turner’s attention to detail. She described everything from the food to the clothes to the landscape of Scotland in perfect detail. It was never boring because the descriptions were well-balanced with dialogue and internal monologue from the characters. Best of all, she made me feel like I was right there along with the characters. I felt like I really was back in time watching these events unfold and you really can’t ask for more than that in historical fiction.
Even if you know nothing of Scottish history like I did I’d highly recommend picking up Fire and Sword if you like historical fiction in general. This is her debut novel and I think we can all look forward to her future works.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
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