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The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel G.…
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The Steps to the Empty Throne (1969)

by Nigel G. Tranter

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This is the first in a trilogy of novels featuring Robert the Bruce, who fought Edward I of England for an independent Scotland. The novel begins with Bruce and the other Scottish nobles humiliated after John Balliol is deposed as the King of Scotland and Edward asserts his dominance over the realm. The land is divided, but a hero soon rises up in the form of William Wallace. Bruce decides to throw in his lot with Wallace's cause, at great peril since he is seen as highly esteemed by the English king.

The book covers the period from about 1296 (maybe slightly earlier than that) to 1306. It is a very richly imagined world, with lushly descriptive paragraphs and equal measures of battling and politicking. There isn't much scope for women here, and one of the most important women, Elizabeth de Burgh, is pretty cool for a 13th-century woman. She is able to forestall being married off to undesirable men, and Bruce listens to some of her counsels, but she becomes slightly annoying toward the end as she is reduced to the "supportive wife worrying at home about her man" role. In addition to Elizabeth, most of the other women who show up are of the nobility. The lower-class perspective is limited to brief summaries of the villagers on Bruce's and others' lands fleeing into the highlands before Edward I can kill them all. While this does mean not many women appear in the book, at least they are not appearing as the victims of graphically described rape.

Some other thoughts:
- Bishop Wishart of Glasgow sure seemed to get captured a lot.
- Lamberton may have been my favourite character, because he had to put up with a great deal of nonsense from both Bruce and Comyn, the two most powerful nobles in Scotland who also happened to hate each other.
- I wavered between liking and being exasperated by Bruce, which is probably the sign of a rounded portrait. However, I definitely sided with him against Comyn, who was unnecessarily obstructive and rude.
- The one (perhaps token) sex scene was unintentionally funny because of the purple prose, although it could probably have been way more awkward.

The lush description and my deficient knowledge of Scottish geography slowed me down a bit, but all in all, I liked what I read, will continue with the trilogy, and plan to supplement it with a non-fiction account of the period. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jun 10, 2013 |
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EVEN strong men, hard-bitten, grim-faced men winced as the horseman rode right into the church, iron-shod hooves striking sparks from the flagstones, their noisy clatter stilling all talk and reverberating hollowly under the hammer-beam roof. Stracatho was no mighty church, merely a prebend of the nearby Cathedral of Brechin, and horse and rider seemed enormous in its narrow echoing constriction.
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The Heroic Story of Robert the Bruce and the turbulent struggle for an Independent Scotland. The year is 1268 and Edward Plantagent, King of England, is determined to hammer the rebellious Scots into submission. Bruce, despite internal clashes with that headstrong figure, William Wallace, and his fierce love for his antagonist's god-daughter, gives himself to the task of uniting the Scots against the invaders from the South. And so begins this deadly game for national survival - with battle-scarred Scotland as the prize.
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