The Crown in the Heather: N. Gemini Sasson
“Each night when I lie down, bathed in the rank sweat of a day’s pressed march, I am so weary I neither stir nor dream in my sleep. For weeks, I have felt neither the cushion of a pillow beneath my cheek, nor the caress of a blanket upon my shoulders.”
This is how The Crown in the Heather begins, with engrossing imagery and immediate sympathy. And for me, it never let up. With each chapter, I not only learned more of this era of Scottish history, one in which I am most interested, but I grew to know the characters intimately, to feel their loves, their pains, their doubts, their fears, their horror, their resolve.
Using the “observer-narrator” viewpoint in several chapters, the author masterfully deepened not only the viewpoint character but the others as well, the ones being observed. One of my favorite lines in the entire book, in James Douglas’s viewpoint, is of Robert:
“For weeks now, Robert had waited for them to come. Day after day, rising before dawn, he climbed to the same high hill and watched from his rocky eyrie. Every evening the same again. But day after day went by and nothing. No one. He did not pace or fret or fray away with worry. He simply waited. His eyes as hard and fixed as chips of stone, gazing above the treetops, surveying along the river’s course.”
And also in James’s viewpoint, told as he watches the reunion of Robert with his beloved Elizabeth, James, who has fallen in love with her himself, observes: “As he reached her, Robert sprang from his horse and wrapped her in the circle of his strong arms like a giant cupping a dove between the palms of his hands–gently and fiercely all in one.”
The author also brings to life the character of Prince Edward, Longshanks’ son. I never really thought much about this boy before reading this book, but Sasson brings him to clear-cut, fleshed-out life. Insightful–no, inspired writing delves deep into this abused young man.
Beautiful and evocative, this book was no dry account of an event in history. It brought to magnificent life the people who lived, died and endured the awful rape of their country and tradition, and their determination, in the face of terrible odds, to fight back, to free themselves, to rule themselves, no matter the cost.
I think one of the reasons so many people across the world are so in love with Scotland is because of its rich history, the stunning beauty of its country (which Sasson describes with great skill) and the way the people, in dire straits for so much of the time, continued to soldier on with ramrod spines: the Scots never relent. They never give up. They never surrender. We can’t help but love that sort of courage. All of this comes through clearly in The Crown in the Heather.
I also want to compliment the author for clearly delineating the order of the books. I hate it when I buy a new book, not knowing much about it, only to discover at the end that I’ve just read the third book in a trilogy or something. No wonder I was so confused! And now it’s too late to go back and begin at the beginning. I much prefer a trilogy or series to be clearly indicated, and to know which book in the series I’m reading.
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