SISTERS OF THE BRUCE by J.M. HARVEY (Available April 2013 through Matador/Troubador Publishing Ltd UK)
“This fictionalized account of the lives of Isa, Kirsty, Mary, Mathilda and Margaret – the sisters of Robert the Bruce – brings Scottish history to life, variously through nail-biting action sequences, breathtaking accounts of deprivation and heartbreak, and through the easier rhythmic epistolary conversations of the sisters which lend an immediacy to the narrative.
The juxtaposition of the everyday recounted in the sisters’ letters, with the raging wars of the period affords a glimpse into the past, an experience more profound and enjoyable than any history book could provide.
Readers with an interest in Scotland, Scottish history or history in general will find this an enjoyable read. However, it would by no means be limited to that demographic. As a reader, I have no particular interest in history or Scotland and was enticed more by the idea of the strength of these women who I knew nothing about. There is definite appeal to lovers of literary fiction also, through the epistolary form which allows for domestic intimacy alongside the sweeping catastrophic events of the Scottish Wars of Independence.
LANGUAGE AND TONE
With a deft touch, the author introduces the readers to the language of the time and place and keeps them there easily. Each of the female characters maintains her own distinctive voice through her correspondences.
While much of the lives of the sisters may seem alien to our 21st century sensitivities, other parts traverse time and space.
Such is the author’s skill in setting the scene, I received quite a thrill when I read a letter to Isa signed ‘your loving brother, Rob’ and then reminded myself that it is a work of fiction.
Mary’s time in the cage is told with such fierce brutality that we can feel her pain and her rage and humiliation, achingly brought forth here:- ‘To drift and fall effortlessly upon demand through time’s lucent barrier was her only path to freedom.’
The spirit, manners and social conditions of the age are imparted seamlessly in the sisters’ letters.
The reader grasps a sense of the enormous strength of the sisters early and the sentiments remain long after the final word. Here is Mary’s almost unbearable pain as told by Mathilda in her letter to Isa: At times, you can look into her eyes and see she is lost somewhere in a dark vale of sorrow and regret and unfathomable pain.
Each of the sisters has suffered in her own way, some far more than others and I am grateful to the author for presenting them to us in a way that sees them loom as large as Robert the Bruce himself in our estimation.
The manuscript is rich in period detail and the author should be rightly proud of the way she has woven her research throughout the story as to appear effortless and natural. Such subtlety results in a deeper understanding of thirteenth and fourteenth century Scottish history, without any overt awareness from the reader.
Sisters of The Bruce is an exceptional epic novel. The extensive research involved shines through the narrative and I would highly recommend it not only to those interested in the history of Scotland but to anyone who enjoys reading about the strength and resilience of women. It will also appeal to people (like me) who enjoy the intimacy of a story told through private fictional letters. It is a sprawling read of intimate domesticity and vast adventure, at once alien and familiar.”
Freelance writer, journalist and online reviewer.
Author of the novel ‘8 States of Catastrophe’