Book Review: Sisters of the Bruce by J.M. Harvey

Sisters of the Bruce by J.M. Harvey

  • Method of Obtaining: My copy was provided by the publisher.
  • Published by:  Troubador Publishing
  • Release Date:  11.01.2013

Set against the wild and perilous background of Scotland in the late 13th century, the adventurous lives of Robert the Bruce’s five sisters come to life through their own words in a series of letters. Courage and tenacity are often associated with Scotland’s great hero, but few appreciate the enormous challenges experienced by these remarkable sisters. Their intimate account of family life resonates still with love, loss and hope.

Isa leaves home to sail to the land of the Vikings to become Queen of Norway whilst her sister, Kirsty, finds herself Countess of Mar and chatelaine of the great Kildrummy Castle in Scotland’s far northeast. Danger looms and the younger sisters, Mathilda and Margaret, escape to Orkney with Kirsty’s children. As Scotland spirals into war, Robert’s sisters face the wrath of King Edward of England, whose vengeance wrought the brutal death of William Wallace. Kirsty is incarcerated alone in an English nunnery, whilst Mary endures years of misery within a cage hanging from the walls of Roxburgh Castle. Under Robert’s kingship, old wounds heal and Scotland’s fighting force achieves a resounding victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. Only then are the fragile, traumatised women released, through the ransoming of English nobles, to return home to rebuild their shattered lives… Sisters of The Bruce is a captivating work of fiction that weaves family history with a gripping narrative through the social and political landscape of medieval Scotland, Norway and Orkney. J. M. Harvey has been inspired by Sharon Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick and Sigrud Undset.

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My Review:

Over and over and over again in my reviews over the last several years I’ve found myself having to talk about using a gimmick to sell a book.  That gimmick could be anything from touching on curiosity that a reader might have on seeing things from a villains point of view to exploiting some sort of disability in an effort to sell the book.  J.M. Harvey has added yet another gimmick to my list of things to dislike: that of putting a story where there isn’t a story in order to tell a completely different story.  Sisters of the Bruce was not a book about the sisters, it was a book telling the history of Scotland in the 13th century through the medium of women’s letters and, to a lesser extent, their lives.

The issue that Harvey, I’m sure, ran across is that there is little actual documentation on what the sisters lives must have been like.  Isabelle and Kirsty compose the majority of letters that provide an introduction into the book and those letters are full of politics, movements of the war, and other information that i highly doubt was made readily available to the women – through their brothers, husbands, or even other means.  Instead of getting an inside look into their actual lives, I was forced to endure a lengthy history lesson about the movements of different armies and the struggles for power – basically, instead of a book about women, Sisters of the Bruce was a book about men and the women were simply used as a tool to tell that story.

While I doubt there is enough material to make a lengthy story about this bunch of sisters, I do think there is enough material to have made a short, more concise, but interesting look at the lives of the women of Scotland in the 13th century.  I understand, according to the summary, that Harvey has been influenced by some of my favorite female historians – but I think that his story development and his method of telling that story could use a nice long look.  Penman, for example, does not exploit characters in order to tell her story – instead, she focuses on specific characters, fleshing out their thoughts and reasoning behind their actions.

I was really hoping to read a good, solid book with historical background – instead, I got a book on history with very little to do with the title, or the actual summary of the book.  If you are interested in good historical fiction, check out Sharon Kay Penman, Alison Weir, or even Nicola Griffith’s newest book, Hild, for actual character development.

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