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The Fearlessness and Boldness of a Young Scotsman - an Editorial Review of "The Douglas Bastard"

Book Blurb:

King Robert the Bruce and the Black Douglas are dead — and Scots once more must fight for their freedom.

Young Archibald, the Black Douglas's bastard son, returns from exile to a Scotland ravaged by war. With treachery and danger on every side, he must learn to sleep with a claymore in his hand and one eye open because even his closest friend may betray him...

Content warning: violence against a child

Author Bio:

J R Tomlin is the author of nineteen historical novels.

Her historical novels are mainly set in Scotland. You can trace her love of that nation to the stories her grandmother read her when she was small and to her hillwalking through the Cairngorms where the granite mountains have a gorgeous red glow under the setting sun.

In addition to spending time in Scotland, she has traveled in the US, mainland Europe and the Pacific Rim. She now lives in Oregon.

Editorial Review:

Under my gambeson, sweat trickled down my sides, and my arms began to ache, but I refused to slow down the steady, careful whack, whack of the wooden blade against the post. Some of the others thought I was unimportant because I was a bastard, but I would prove them wrong. They would see what a bastard could do.

While this outstanding portrayal of intense Scottish history is told from the point-of-view of a young nine-year-old boy thrust quite quickly into manhood, this is by no means young adult fiction; rather, it is a stout homage to other immersive authors like Cornwell who dive into ancient battles with fervour.

Archibald Douglas, the bastard son of Sir James “the Black” Douglas, comes home to Scotland after many years in France serving under King David (also exiled), alongside his father's first cousin, William, 1st Earl of Douglas, Lord Liddesdale, whose intent is to divest Scotland of all English souls and send them back to England with their tails tucked between their legs... or dead. A famous description of Archibald, known as “Black Archibald” is of him being 'dark and ugly more like a cook-boy than a Noble' and yet, he was known as a large man and able to wield a huge sword. As a boy, though, he has something to prove and must overcome the incessant label put upon him and the feeling of unimportance in comparison to his legitimate family members.

We set off, a hundred strong, all wearing long dark cloaks, near nightfall of an October evening with the sun dripping behind wispy gray clouds. A breeze rustled the remaining leaves, crisply curled in brown and gold, that clung stubbornly to the nearly bare branches. Damp litterfall muffled the hoofbeats, and the horses' breath appeared like puffs of smoke. For the first time, Sir William allowed me to carry a sword.

This is a time of knights and jousts, of chivalry and nobility, and a time when Scottish nobles continued to seek independence from English rule since King David's own father, Robert the Bruce, fought alongside William Wallace in this fight. Many of the passages and dialogue betwixt Archie and Will, as well as the scenic passages of Scotland, itself, and the castles hearken back to Randall Wallace's own book Braveheart, not to mention the battle scenes and the constant fear of betrayal by other clans.

Archie begins training as a squire with his eyes set on becoming a knight, of proving his worth not only to Lord Liddesdale but to the King. Again and again, battles rage, blood is spilled, and castles are taken... until he arrives at the Battle of Neville's Cross which spell dire consequences for the King and for Archie's cousin. For a while the reader wonders if Archie and his friend, Will Ramsay will escape... but Ms Tomlin ties things up in a way to entice the reader onward in anticipation of the next book in this series.

As expected of a hearty full-on historical novel set in 14th century Scotland, the language and brogue is spot-on, and the characters are vivid and fearless while displaying typical human emotion of fear and vulnerability at the appropriate times. You can almost smell the sweat and the peat moss in the descriptions. Ms Tomlin provides outstanding endnotes for the reader to delve a bit deeper into this time period, to distinguish the historical accurate facts woven into the fiction, and to add some new words from the provided glossary into their vocabulary. One caveat in all the richness is the desire for a bit more internal dialogue from Archie – while we get some, and perhaps more later in the next book, the full development of his character felt not quite as deep as needed to connect on all levels, however this by no means dampens the entirety of the storyline, especially for a devout devourer of Middle Age Scottish history. Yet, for the most part, The Douglas Bastard prose is as smooth as a dram of Scotch whiskey and as sharp as a Claymore... an intense read to throw back and slice in one sitting.

I made the sign of the cross and said a quick prayer for Will and me and for the thousands of dead. The English would have been exhausted after the battle, not to mention hours spent looting so many bodies. I ran my hand down my face. I could not think about that. It would unman me.


“The Douglas Bastard” by J. R. Tomlin receives 4.75 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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