Sunday, August 8, 2010

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


The Crown in the Heather – The Bruce Trilogy: Book I by N. Gemini Sasson


“Whenever we want something, we must weigh the cost of getting it. A farthing is a fair price for a loaf of bread. Two shillings for a yard of wool. But what price will a man pay to be his own master?”

This question is at the heart of N. Gemini Sasson’s debut, The Crown in the Heather – The Bruce Trilogy: Book I, and it is the primary concern driving the central character of Robert the Bruce. Heir to the earldom of Carrick, Robert grows up headstrong and impulsive. Under the tutelage of his grandfather and father, he learns to negotiate the politics of thirteenth-century Scotland. Yet he yearns to be more than one among many Scots held in the sway of the English King. Robert wants to be the ruler of a county free from the severity and abuses of its nominal leaders. His ambition is a direct threat to England and several of the Scottish nobles, who refuse to rally around his claim.

As Gemi says in her Author’s Note, folklore sometimes defines the truth of what we know about a character. Robert the Bruce has taken on an almost mythical status over the centuries, like that of King Arthur. I enjoyed so much of Gemi’s portrayal, but foremost is that her Robert is a devoted son and brother, a loving husband and father. He is also a king passionately dedicated to the preservation of his people and their country. Where he wavers in his devotion, is when his own ambitions endanger the lives of those whom he loves most, particularly his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjorie. I could feel the struggle inside of him, thanks to Gemi’s skill. He became so real to me, conflicted by his desires, wanting the stewardship of his nation despite an easy temptation to capitulate and surrender the burden. His quest for the crown of Scotland almost guarantees that he will never have the comforts of home. Moments of joy with his wife and daughter are fleeting, snatched in brief interludes before threats arise. Robert’s passion for Elizabeth, like everything else about him, is larger than life. Varied historical figures complete the cast of the Crown in the Heather, most notably William Wallace of Braveheart fame; the nemesis of the Scots, King Edward I of England and his beleaguered heir, Edward of Caernarvon; John the Red Comyn, a one-time Guardian of Scotland like Wallace, and a host of other characters.

One among them truly stands out: James Douglas, whose story parallels Robert’s own. He is in danger of eclipsing Robert as the hero of this story. James suffers losses early on, followed by a cruel exile in Paris. His experiences toughen him, but his innate goodness defies his otherwise wily behavior and a tendency to rush to confront his enemies. If I can liken the Bruce to King Arthur, then James Douglas is his Lancelot. It is only in the latter half of the book that James becomes one of the more trusted members of Robert’s retinue, but he easily proves himself a capable fighter and constant companion. His portrayal left me so captivated that I promised Gemi I would just wait for Book II, rather than rushing off to learn more about him and his ultimate fate.

I have had the pleasure of working with Gemi for a few years through critique groups, and from the start, she amazed me with her natural ability to convey human emotions, as deftly as a professional artist sketches landscapes. Her characters are vibrant and resonate beyond the pages of the book. Gemi has earned my respect and admiration for her enthusiasm and dedication to perfecting her work. It was a tremendous honor and pleasure to read the final version of The Crown in the Heather. I eagerly look forward to more on Robert the Bruce and his faithful cohort, James Douglas, in Book II.

Tomorrow, win a free autographed copy of this book. Visit us again at Historical Novel Review.


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