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Tranter, Nigel MONTROSE: THE YOUNG MONTROSE 1972 Coronet/Hodder And Stoughton
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BOOK REVIEW - NIGEL TRANTER - MONTROSE: THE YOUNG MONTROSE 1972 Coronet/Hodder And Stoughton/ MONTROSE: THE CAPTAIN GENERAL 1973 Coronet/Hodder And Stoughton

Tranter's novels are well written, often trying to be as historically accurate as possible, and the author is at his best in his discussions of political meetings, and battle sequences of which there are understandably many. Though his overt reverence for James Graham, 5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Montrose tends to give the hero too saintly a status, and other characters are often underplayed. Some are presented simply as outright villains. The Irish, after Montrose's initial realisation that Alastair MacColla is a giant of a man, simply come across as being there, and are relegated to minor background extras. Manus O'Cahan is simply mentioned as being in charge of a regimental flank of Foote, which reduces him to a name used to describe the men on the left of field and nothing more. There are a few gaffes. At one point, Lord Hamilton storms out of a Covenanters meeting that goes badly for him, but is seen continuing to air his angry point of view there within a paragraph of this. Characters who are described as meeting some fate in later chapters are described as having been really influential in events earlier related, but in which their apparent influence on Montrose was not described when he actually covered those events directly. This is particularly apparent when Tranter describes the murder of Lord Kilpont. He isn't even listed in the cast of important characters that prefaces the book. Tranter cannot resist silly supernaturalism either, especially in Montrose's feverish vision of the dead King during his period of illness just before the Aberdeen battle. There are obvious fictional conceits such as Montrose getting frequent meetings with his wife, Magdalen on battlefields, in which he struggles to come to terms with his lack of attention to his family. He has barely met with the Irish Gallowglasses (Mercenary soldiers) when he leaves their celebration party to travel over a hundred miles to meet with her, and then makes it back before anyone notices his absence. They did meet on occasion, but not as often or in so many contrived and convenient ways as Tranter would like us to believe. These meetings add only melodrama and soap to an otherwise fine but rather too dryly written narration. There are two novels, which are actually one book in two parts. The first book takes us through to Montrose's more successful Campaigns, while the second deals with his downfall, through Philipaugh to his doomed campaigns for Charles The Second and his eventual capture, incarceration and execution.  A useful novel to read in conjunction with text books on the life and times of the same people, and a precursor to the work of later better historic novelists like MacDonald Fraser and Bernard Cornwell. Tranter will appeal to fans of the latter’s Sharpe novels.

© Copyright. Arthur Chappell

                                   

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