I’m a big fan of historical novels and of Robyn Young, one of the top writers in this genre who wrote a great trilogy about the Templars and the Crusades. Kingdom is the final book in Young’s trilogy about Scottish nobleman Robert Bruce and his fight to become the king and win independence from the English.
While Robert Bruce is famous not just for his victories and ascension to Scotland’s throne, he is also well-known for his many failures against the English. In Kingdom, newly-crowned Bruce has embarked on another uprising against the English but suffers defeat after defeat, forcing him to retreat to the isles off Western Scotland and putting him into a precarious position. Meanwhile, the fearsome but ailing elderly English king Edward I, or Longshanks, having seen off William Wallace (the hero in the 1995 epic movie Braveheart) by capturing, hanging and quartering him, mounts one final campaign to eradicate Bruce and bring Scotland into England’s grasp once and for all. The English are beset by bickering nobles and a gay scandal involving the prince (people will have also seen this played out in Braveheart). The story concludes with the Battle of Bannockburn where Robert Bruce fulfills his destiny.
The novel does not include the popular legend attributed to Bruce of how after suffering his seventh defeat, he was in a cave and saw a spider trying to spin a web, only to fail again and again until it succeeded on its eight try, which then inspired Bruce to mount one final battle against the English which he won. Instead, Young replaces this with the inclusion of a female wizard and her “web of destiny” for Bruce. In addition, there is also a fictional plot about the English king Edward I exploiting the legend of King Arthur and a prophecy to try to “unite” Britain, including creating his own version of the Knights of the Round Table to induce elite British knights to carry out Edward’s vision.
Despite being full of battles and sieges, the novel relies less on action than on recreating the historical drama, intrigue and urgency of Bruce’s desperate campaign, whilst including a strong element of myths like the wizard and the prophecy. Bruce encounters so many setbacks and defeats, including the destruction of his army in an ambush and the capture of his brothers and family by the English, whilst continuously being pursued by superior forces that at times it seems that he will never win. The doggedness of Bruce in attempting to achieve victory is almost as big a part of the story as the fighting.
As this is the third novel of the trilogy, Young uses lengthy recollections by the characters to bring newer readers up to date on events, which proves very useful and not distracting.
Kingdom proves to be a stirring story that blends history, drama and action to create a deeply satisfying read and a fitting conclusion.