William Wallace of Braveheart fame is one of Scotland’s most renowned historical figures. Despite this, though, and a movie made about his life, little is known about the facts of his life. The account that was made into the movie the epic poem “The Wallace,” by Blind Harry, was written more than a hundred years after the events it details. Author Jack Whyte compares Wallace’s life to that of Jesus’s, “…in that both emerged from obscurity at a late age – between twenty-seven and thirty – and each had a short, brilliant, meteoric public career that ended in execution. No one really knows what either man did in the years before he stepped into public scrutiny…” Still, certain facts and surmises have been recorded, and – though Whyte’s book The Forest Laird (A Tale of William Wallace) is a historical novel – he has researched his subject very well, and it shows in his exciting, page-turning novel.
The Forest Laird (A Tale of William Wallace) begins with a cousin of Wallace’s, the first-person narrator, Jamie (or James), visiting William at Smithfield Prison where he awaits his execution to both talk with him and to hear his last confession. James and William fought together against the English under King Edward, and we read about their early life, and learn where William’s initial hatred of the English began. His parents and sister were brutally killed, his sister’s head cut from her body by a sword. He was only eight, and the soldiers of King Edward then raped both of the boys. They escape, but are pursued by the soldiers for upwards of thirty miles. It is no wonder that, after this happened, Wallace was filled with a hatred for the English and a desire to gain revenge against the people who had wronged him and his cousin and who had murdered his family.
The Forest Laird (A Tale of William Wallace) details both Wallace’s victories and his defeats, his highs and his lows, much as the movie Braveheart does. The research the author’s done, though, reveals even more facets to William’s character, and it’s interesting to see him viewed through his cousin’s sometimes idolizing and sometimes condemning eyes. He’s shown druing his fugitive days, when he was considered to be an outlaw, through his meteoric rise as his people’s hero and patriot, and the eventual falling off of his followers due to both defeats at the hands of the English and to the changing times and attitudes of the Scottish royal families. Wallace’s exploits, daring escapes, and adventures are described in vivid page-turning detail. It’s sad as one reads to know, though, the gruesome fate that awaits the fictional Wallace, as it’s the same one that befell the historical one: to be hung, drawn, and quartered by the book’s end.
William Wallace’s life is told with a new, invigorated force through Whyte’s words and colorful descriptions. The next two books in his Guardians trilogy will be about men who were two other cornerstones of Scottish freedom, Robert, the Bruce and Sir James (the Black) Douglas. I know very little about these men, though I’ve heard of their names before. Scotland has had a long and a proud history, and it has always seemed to me to be a mystical, almost magical kind of country. If The Forest Laird (A Tale of William Wallace) is any indication, the novels to follow will be ones I’ll be anxiously awaiting reading/reviewing. I’d highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves reading historical fiction and who’s a fan of the movie Braveheart. Add it to your reading lists today!