John Semphill finds himself in a world of hurt upon awakening on a bloody battlefield in the summer of 1488, Scotland. King James III went to over with his own son, Prince James. John’s father, Thomas Semphill, insisted they fight for the King; this pitted them against one of their decades-old foe, Lord Montgomerie. And King James and his armies have lost. Thomas Semphill is dead and John’s prospects of being a knight in good standing are looking slim indeed.
I really enjoyed the writing of this novel – the grittiness of the battlefields, of life in general, really stuck with me. I felt that this book was well researched (though I know extremely little about Scottish history, so take my opinion with a grain of salt). From the food to clothes to family names, I feel like I got the 15th century Scottish experience in reading this book. I especially liked that Turner included a note about family names, personal names, and designations at the very beginning. So many characters had the same first name as this was truly the style at the time. But I felt she made the reading easy by referring to characters by their designations (i.e. John of Ellestoun) when clarity was needed.
The characters themselves were complex. John starts off as a rather unsure teenager trying to please his father, along with his mother and sister. But once his father is dead, he is the man of the family now and all eyes turn to him to keep the family line alive and well. Indeed, John had to do some quick growing up in this novel.
Lord Montgomerie, who initially comes off as a proficient warrior and something of a brute becomes more complex as the story unfolds. While initially an enemy of John (and Montgomerie did fight for the winning side in the battle that killed John’s father), the two become allies of a sort. The women, Helen, Margaret, and Mary (among others) bring their own views to the events of the story and aren’t just window dressing.
Because I know so little of Scottish history, I did find myself lost at times in the big picture. On one hand, I wanted to pop over to Wikipedia to look up some of these historical figures to get a better sense of what was going on, but I didn’t want to spoil the larger plotline for myself. So, I had to muddle through a few areas due to my lack of knowledge.