8 Following


I like to read classics, historical fiction and world lit. Oh and I love short stories.


Insurrection (Robyn Young)

Insurrection  - Robyn Young

Insurrection is the romping start of the epic life story of Robert the Bruce. The story is high pace and told with passion and eye for detail. I was immediately drawn into this retelling of the eventful life of the Bruce, after it won my heart in the prologue. I'm such a sap for medieval knighthood and here was a wonderful scene of a 13th century tournament to start me off. The rest of the book did not disappoint either. Full of political intrigue, military campaigns and wonderful battle scenes alternated with tales of magic, Arthurian myth and a mysterious knightly order... I especially like Young's inclusion of (parts of) the Arthurian myth. I thought it added an extra dimension to the story.

Young is a master in writing about the complex political and military events of late medieval Britain. She manages to capture it all, clearly, making it easy to grasp even for those not familiar with this period of history, without simplifying the events beyong recognition. The action scenes were very well written and I found myself on the edge of my seat when reading them. Yet other parts of the story felt underdeveloped.

I was disappointed with the glossing over of Robert's marriage to Isobel. There's a build-up in the story as se assumes he'll marry Eva, but upon arrival home, he discovers it's her sister Isobel. Next chapter, Isobel is five months pregnant, and a few pages further she's dead. What an anti-climax! Not even a paragraph or a page dedicated to their marriage or Robert's thoughts on what just happened (he thought he was marrying the other sister! He's bound to have some thoughts on it!). In the end, all Isobel was good for was providing Robert with his daughter. So why the complicated construction of inventing an older sister and have Robert fancy her? A case of raising the wrong expectations.

(show spoiler)

Another aspect of the story that could have been developed better was the character of Robert in the first half of the novel. There's a lot happening to Robert in his youth, and the people around him steer him in certain directions. Yet I had no idea what Robert wanted. I missed a sense of urgency in him, or an inner drive that made him do what he did in the first half of the novel. That's the reason that in the first half of the novel, I liked king Edward a whole lot more. He had a clear goal and drive to get what he wanted. In the second half, Robert is presented a dilemma:

he has ties of loyalty to both sides, who will he be loyal to?

(show spoiler)

I thought that dilemma was worked out nicely, with a good built-up and dramatic resolution. I felt the story pick up pace, and the character of Robert became more interesting as he was forced to start making choices himself.

I like Young's style. She's very descriptive, at times flowery, with loads of detail of medieval life. However, there were instances where it didn't work as at times her descriptions get away from her. For example: "He could see ladders being carried by lines of men and the weapons in their raised fists weren't swords or spears, but axes, hammers and picks, as if they were a mad horde of labourers rushing in to start a day's work." (p. 243)
The image conjured up by that description is quite funny, but probably not the feeling she was going for when describing the enemy storming the castle.
Futhermore, forgetting at times that descriptions are used to evoke images, and are not to be used for description's sake only, some descriptors are turned into empty phrases by their repeated use. All medieval halls are "cavernous" and oodles of things are "garish in the sunlight". Red wine is "scarlet", "ruby-red" or (my favorite) "plum-dark". Why can't red wine be just red?

Though most of the time, her writing evokes the period very well, and is able to grip the reader. I spend a few nights staying up late, unable to put the book down before going to sleep. I'm on the look out for the other books in this series, and might check out her Templar series as well.