After reading Renegade earlier this year (the second of Robyn Young’s three novels on Robert the Bruce), I decided to move quickly on to the third and final volume, Kingdom. Having had my interest piqued in this period of Scottish history, I wanted to read The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter and possibly Nigel Tranter’s Bruce trilogy – but it made sense to finish with this trilogy first to avoid confusion!
Kingdom continues Robert’s story, picking up where Renegade left off. It’s 1306 and Robert Bruce has been crowned King of Scots at last, the other claimants to the throne now either dead or in exile. His dream has finally been achieved – and yet he is still unable to rule in peace. King Edward I of England, who feels he has been betrayed by Robert once too often, is unwilling to give up control of Scotland and sends Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, north at the head of an army. Just a few months after his coronation, Robert is defeated by Valence at Methven Wood and is forced to flee. Eight years of conflict will follow, ending in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn – and if you don’t know what happens at Bannockburn, then I’ll leave you to find out for yourself.
I enjoyed Kingdom more than Renegade, but not as much as the first book, Insurrection. This one is a bit too heavy on the battle scenes for my taste, although that’s understandable as the period covered – 1306 to 1314 – was, as I’ve mentioned above, a time of constant conflict, with Robert and his men caught up in a long series of sieges, raids, battles and skirmishes. It’s also quite a sad book, as Robert’s friends and family pay a heavy price to enable Robert to fulfil his destiny. Some face execution, some are imprisoned and others suffer the indignity of being caged like animals. There’s cruelty on both sides, but also compassion and that’s one of the things I’ve noted throughout this trilogy: that the situation is not just portrayed as a case of Scotland good and England bad or vice versa. In fact, Robert faces not just opposition from Edward and the English but also from Scottish rivals and rebels, all of whom ensure that his path to the throne will not be an easy one.
Robert himself is a more sympathetic character in this novel than in the previous two. I found him difficult to warm to before – although that was partly a result of all the treachery and betrayal he was involved in, as well as the lack of time he had to spend with his wife and daughter – but it seems that with his coronation has come a new maturity and sense of responsibility. He is still a slightly bland character, though; I prefer my heroes to be more charismatic! I actually thought some of the other characters were far more interesting than Robert – Alexander Seton, for example, a nobleman from East Lothian who finds his loyalties torn between his country and his family.
I was sorry to see the last of Edward I, who had been the driving force behind much of what happened in the first two and a half books. He is succeeded by his son, Edward II, who lacks his father’s military and leadership skills and is a less worthy opponent for Robert. But while I can’t say that I liked either of the Edwards, the real villain in Kingdom is Aymer de Valence. Apparently, though, the historical Valence was not exactly as he is portrayed in this trilogy; Robyn Young admits in her author’s note that she hasn’t been very fair to him and that he probably doesn’t deserve to be seen as villainous at all. I would like to give a word of praise to Robyn Young for her author’s notes, by the way – they are much more comprehensive than most.
I have enjoyed reading this trilogy, especially as I previously had only a very basic idea of the history involved, which meant that most of Robert Bruce’s story was new and unfamiliar to me. Now I’m looking forward to exploring the period further!