Since I’m honeymooning in Scotland (and like to theme read on vacations) this week’s If You Like is Scotland-set books. Which, it turns out, can be a very, very broad category. So I’ve divided it up into two. This week’s will be historical set and next week will be modern (including mystery/thriller).
If you like historical novels set in Scotland, you’ll probably like….
— Sir Walter Scott’s swashbuckling romanticized vision of the eighteenth century in Rob Roy and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae. They set the mould for so many of the Highland dramas that were to come later.
— Sticking with the Jacobite rising, there is, of course, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which has probably done more to popularize the place and time period than any other modern novel. This saga, in which a 1945 Englishwoman catapults back to mid-eighteenth century Scotland starts a few years before the Rising and goes on from there.
— For a glimpse into a Scotland that Robert Louis Stevenson would have recognized, Darci Hannah did a wonderful job bringing early nineteenth century Scotland to life in The Exile of Sara Stevenson, in which an Edinburgh-bred heroine finds herself exiled to a remote lighthouse. Also check out The Angel of Blythe Hall, also set in Scotland, but in the 15th century, against a backdrop of warring clans.
— For those who like their history almost straight up, with a hint of fictionalization, there’s Nigel Tranter’s immense oeuvre, which covers most of the monarchs of Scotland, from the medieval on up. Back in my college days, working on a thesis about Marie de Guise, I was particularly taken with his James V Trilogy, but he’s also covered Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Queen Margaret, and just about anyone else of who you can think.
— Margaret of Scotland has also been covered, more recently, by Susan Fraser King in Queen Hereafter.
— Moving a bit later in the Middle Ages, there’s Kathryn Lynn Davis’s Child of Awe, set in the troubled fourteenth century as a wealthy heiress becomes mixed up in the ambitions of the powerful Campbell clan.
— Of course, I couldn’t possibly leave out Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, in which Francis Crawford of Lymond intrigues his way through the mid-sixteenth century. Much of the Lymond saga is set outside Scotland, but since the hero is a Scotsman, it counts all the same. If you haven’t read these yet, start with The Game of Kings and read your way through.
— Moving from the sixteenth century to the seventeenth, we arrive at my favorite book of 1990, Heartstorm. There’s a dashing Highland rogue, an evil English courtier, the evil English courtier’s spunky (and half-Scottish) daughter, Big Family Secrets, even bigger family feuds, a conniving Other Woman…. So much happiness and the Highlands, too.
— While we’re on the romance side of things, does anyone else remember Arnette Lamb’s highland rogues? (Of which my favorite was the aptly titled Highland Rogue). They had all the elements anyone would want in a Highland-set romance novel, dashing lairds, lost governesses, spunky clansmen– sheer fun.
— Also on the romance side, how could I leave out Julie Garwood’s The Bride, in which, if I recall properly, the English heroine is married off to a Scottish laird with the requisite Dark Family Secret and naturally, after much sparring, wins over both the laird and his clan. (I adored this book, but it’s been a while since I’ve read it, so apologies for the sketchy plot summary.)
— For those Julia Quinn fans out there, look for her hilarious short story, Gretna Green, in the anthology Scottish Brides. It is well worth tracking down a copy.
— I could go on and on, but I’m going to finish up with a quirky favorite: George MacDonald Fraser’s The Reavers, a laugh out loud spoof of the marauding Border clans of the 16th century. Seriously, it is that funny. Fraser is best known for his nineteenth century Flashmanbooks, but he also wrote one of the best non-fiction books out there about the early modern Anglo-Scottish border raiders, The Steel Bonnets. In The Reavers, he takes all of that information and uses it to create an Errol Flynn meets Mel Brooks sort of absurdity.
Okay, I’d better stop now. What are your favorite Scottish-set historical novels?