Insurrection is the first in a trilogy telling the story of Robert the Bruce, who was King of Scotland in the 14th century. The second book, Renegade is available now and the third, Kingdom, will be out this summer. In this first novel, beginning in 1286, we meet Robert as a young boy in a Scotland torn apart by the sudden and unexpected death of King Alexander III. The King has died without a male heir, leaving the succession to the throne undecided. The Bruces believe they have a strong claim, but they face competition from their enemies, John Balliol and the Comyns.
In England, meanwhile, King Edward I is forming his own plans for Scotland. Beginning a search for four ancient relics that will enable Merlin’s Last Prophecy to be fulfilled, Edward enlists the help of a group of young noblemen known as the Knights of the Dragon. When Robert, sent to England to restore his family’s reputation, is approached by the Knights, he must decide exactly where his loyalties and ambitions lie.
Insurrection is exactly the sort of historical fiction I love. As someone who reads a lot of historical novels I often find that they either focus too much on romance and court intrigue or are too action-packed with one long battle scene after another. I had neither problem with this book; I found it to be a fascinating, atmospheric tale of kings and knights, witches and soldiers, treachery, murder and war. The descriptive writing is wonderful and the battles (yes, there are a few) are well written and easy to follow. I admit that my heart sank when I discovered this was yet another book with an ‘ancient prophecy’ storyline, but I needn’t have worried because it is only one small part of the plot and I thought it actually felt quite plausible as it’s true that Edward I really did have a fascination with Arthurian legend.
Robert the Bruce is a name I’ve always been intrigued by without really knowing much about him. I have a memory from years ago of going out with my parents one Sunday afternoon on what my dad always called ‘an aimless drive’ and ending up in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland where we noticed a sign pointing to ‘Robert the Bruce’s Cave’ – the cave where Robert supposedly went into hiding from Edward I in 1306 and was famously inspired by a spider weaving its web. Not one of the most exciting places I’ve ever visited (there wasn’t even a spider in sight when we went to look inside the cave), but it has stayed in my mind all these years later!
Because I knew so little about Robert and this period of history, I felt that I was really learning a lot from Insurrection. Everything felt accurate and thoroughly researched and although I had to concentrate to keep track of the complex politics and relationships between the characters, I was never bored. At the end of the book there’s a character list, glossary of medieval terms and a chart showing the order of succession to the Scottish throne, all of which I found useful.
Of course, this is a work of fiction rather than non-fiction so there are times when the author doesn’t stick exactly to the known facts. For example, the deaths of Alexander III and his granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway may have had more innocent causes than those described in the book. The Knights of the Dragon is also a fictional order, although the men who belong to it really existed. Robyn Young explains some of her choices in her author’s note so that we can see where she has used her imagination to fill in some gaps and provide motivations for the actions of her characters.
I know this book will not suit all tastes in historical fiction (some readers might dislike the inclusion of prophecies and witchcraft or will be disappointed by the lack of significant female characters and the fact that Robert himself is not always easy to like) but I absolutely loved it. I’m looking forward to reading Renegade and Kingdom and also exploring Robyn Young’s earlier trilogy on the Knights Templar.