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Book Review: THE ISLESMAN - Nigel Tranter

- Hodder & Stoughton, 2003 - ISBN# 0-340-77018-X

by Wendy Zollo

The Islesman begins as the coming of age tale of Angus Og mac Donald, grandson of the 4th Lord of the Isles, Angus Mor mac Donald, during the years of the Scottish Wars of Independence. Upon the Lord of the Isles' death, Angus Og, all of eighteen years of age, inherits in all but name the responsibilities of an island kingdom -- that stretched from Kintyre in the south to Cape Wrath and the long frontier of the Hebrides and even further land on the mainland of Scotland.

His father, Alexander, an impractical scholar; not fit to rule such a fiercely independent 'empire', nor desiring to do so -- nigh on begs Og to rid him of this burden.

Soon, the reader is being treated to descriptions of Og's numerous, seemingly endless travels in his dragonship, excursions and jaunts to Jura, Iona, Tiree, and Mull. Yet, these are years of danger in Scotland and even the self-governing Isles are tangled in Edward I's longshanks indeed!

Angus' first act was to assist the Lord of Derry against the Englishman, de Burgh, who was pressing forward in Ulster within spitting distance of Derry. Not only did he prove himself worthy, crafty and cunning, he soon gained the Lord's daughter, Ainea, as wife; creating a close and useful alliance with Ireland as well. Tranter, for once, does not back away from the romance in the course of the tale he weaves. He intimately, yet reverently explores their relationship as equal partners and lovers and we are allowed to watch it blossom as the years pass.

Angus needs the strength of his woman and family to bolster him through the turbulent years that lie ahead, when he must be both Lord of the Isles (truly, upon the passing of his father) and comrade to Robert the Bruce. Angus is wise beyond his years and fellow clansman and knows his Isles' state of independence is entwined with the mainland of Scotland. He must balance and master both these tasks.

A bond of respect, loyalty and trust built upon the freedom of Scotland forms between these two most unlikely souls, the 'wild' Islesman and once refined nobleman, now King of Scots.

Nigel takes us from a ragged Bruce seeking aid, from one (Og) it should not have been expected from, to the very fields of Bannockburn through the eyes of Angus Og and all that those eyes see on the journey that is The Islesman.

© Wendy Zollo/2003


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