Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Style and Substance: THE LION RAMPANT by Robert Low

The Lion Rampant by Robert Low
On most books you will find captured quotes on the front and back covers. These are quotes from book reviewers at newspapers (ie The Sunday Times), other authors (generally well known ones writing within the same genre as the book in question) and other people of varied fame and note.
They include words such as masterful, intensely exciting, gripping, a master storyteller, a legend of the genre, as good as 'so and so'.
These snatched quotes never make me buy a book. In fact, I ignore them and observe them with great scepticism, because if you scratched deeper you would find they are quotes from the author's fellow author mates or they are a paid for quote, or the person supplied a quote without ever reading the book. All these make the quotes as fake as their implied spontaneity.
Or they are the other type of quote. One that is quite clearly taken out of context and you wonder what the rest of the review said about the book. What were the negatives.

Robert Low's books are the only books where I actually trust these quotes to be genuine. The books (to me) are masterful, intensely exciting, gripping. The author is a legend of the genre and a master story teller. And no, he is not like so and so since, right now, there is nobody else around like Robert Low. Nobody who writes like him. His style is distinct and unique. A rare gem in the genre of historical fiction, where so many authors are falling into the bad habit of copying the styles of their peers. Riding the bow waves of another's success with mimicry.
For this reason, I will always reach for Low's books with trust. He does not mimic anybody. He does not write looking for market acceptance. He writes for himself - and his reader - in a style that is his own.
It is that style that can lure me to these books, even when the setting holds no interest for me.

Which happens to be the case with this Kingdom Series. It holds no true interest for me.
It is a credit to the author that he can tie me down long enough to read three books, each over 400 pages, that are set during the Wars of Scottish Independence. How he did, is easy to explain.

It is the rawness of Low's writing that does it, combined with the depth and slickness of his characters.
 I am a great admirer of intelligent writing and I feel there is none better nor any as consistent, in the genre of historical fiction, than this author. Even when I was not quite loving this Kingdom Series for its setting, I was still enamoured with the writing style and the unrelenting scope of the character development.
The only thing that took the edge off that was that little issue where the Wars of Scottish Independence have no magnetic pull on me and I don't find novels about famous figures of history to be very interesting. I am more interested in the unknown than the known. Luckily, this trilogy had fictional characters playing prominent roles too and those are the characters that kept me going with the trilogy.

It seems a waste of time to speak about the actual storyline. I have never been one to paraphrase stories in a review because there are plenty of reviews around that do that, plus you can get pretty much all you need on top of that from the book blurb, and the rest you can get by reading the book yourself.
I usually like to speak about how the book made me feel, how well the author has done the story and how skilfully he has managed his characters. And with the climax to the trilogy, The Lion Rampant, I think Low hit his straps and worked it all out expertly. Ticking all my boxes in regards to feelings, storyline and characters.
I gave it five stars out of five and it was my favourite of the trilogy for sure, but I still feel that anybody new to the series needs to start at the beginning with The Lion Wakes. I am not convinced that a reader would be able to appreciate The Lion Rampant fully without following the path that leads to it.
To my fellow readers, I will not recommend this book, I will recommend the trilogy as a whole.

- MM

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