Review: The Guardian by Jack Whyte

Saturday, March 26, 2016
Title: The Guardian
Author: Jack Whyte
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Braveheart Chronicles #3
Pages: 560
Published: March 2016
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Some men strive for greatness. And some men find themselves thrust into the role of their nation's saviors. Such are the two heroes who reshaped and reconfigured the entire destiny of the kingdom of Scotland. Wallace the Braveheart would become the only legendary, heroic, commoner in medieval British history; the undying champion of the common man. The other, Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, would perfect the techniques of guerrilla warfare developed by Wallace and use them to create his own place in history as the greatest king of Scots.

In the spring of 1297, the two men meet in Ayr, in the south of Scotland, each having recently lost a young wife, one in childbirth and the other by murder. Each is heartbroken but determined in his grief to defy the ambitions of England and its malignant king, Edward Plantagenet, whose lust to conquer and consume the realm of Scotland is blatant and unyielding. Their combined anger at the injustices of the invading English is about to unleash a storm in Scotland that will last for sixteen years-and destroy England's military power for decades-before giving rise to a new nation of free men.

Jack Whyte has taken hundreds of pages, several books, and multiple characters to retell the beginning of Scotland's fight for independence. From the famous William Wallace in the series beginner, to the often-maligned Robert the Bruce in the second, to the relative newcomer Sir Andrew Murray here in book three, this series has covered the acts both great and small in Scotland's fight with both clarity and knowledge. Whyte's faithful and dogged retellings are always detailed and imaginative, filling in the gaps of historical record, though this one is shorter on action, with only one major battle in its length.
Ostensibly labelled as Andrew Murray's tale, The Guardian is as much Jamie Wallace's story as his more well-known counterparts. But this is the same kind of carefully-crafted story as the two that came before it, just one with a wider scope of view. The overall focus here in book three seemed to wander around more than it had previously with main characters in "their" books. There is a rather more time spent with either Wallace or with Bruce than just with Sir Andrew Murray. I liked the wide perspective on the plot, but also felt disappointed because Wallace and Bruce had had hundreds of pages before. Murray is a interesting character on his own. His life is dramatic and provides an interesting counterpart to his Scottish compatriots.

Whyte's approach to history is with one of imagination and knowledge. He is an author that clearly knows this time period and these people very well and uses those talents to his advantage in his fiction. With that depth of information informing his plot, it's easy to believe in his version of history, in his version of the famous people we know. I appreciate the layers of detail and description found in his writing, but it can also suffocate the pace at times. There is too much of a good thing, and in a 560 page novel some of the more repetitive descriptions and details could be whittled down. 

This is an evenly-handled series from start to finish. The small issues that pop up -- repetition, occasional infodump, exposition-by-dialogue, silly character decisions -- are diminished by the stronger aspects in the narrative. Each book has been good, and The Guardian is no exception to the rule. Jack Whyte has a great grasp on characters and on his story; The Braveheart Chronicles feels wholly complete after finishing the third novel. The knowledge and enthusiasm of the author is apparent and makes this series a good pick for fans of historical fiction set in the 1200s and/or Scotland. 

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