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Kirkus ReviewsScotland is barely saved from England's grasping Tudor monarchs as Tranter (The Riven Realm, 1985, etc.), a popular chronicler of Scottish history, tells the engaging story of John Maxwell, the young Warden of the Borderlands who routed the English, advised his monarch, and married for love.
Two hundred years after the Scots defeat the English at Bannockburn, Scotland faces another invasion as Henry VIII sends an army north. The Scots, led by their king's favorite, Oliver Sinclair, are humiliatingly defeated in 1542 at Solway Moss, and James V dies shortly thereafter—to be succeeded by his infant daughter Mary, whose French mother will act as regent. This war, as well as the turbulent years that follow, is seen through the eyes of John Maxwell, whose father is the hereditary Warden of the West March. Young John fights with distinction at Solway, where his wise counsel and canny leadership are instantly recognized. He later marries Agnes Herries, the spirited daughter of another Warden, and is soon embroiled in matters of statecraft and war as Scotland struggles to keep its independence. In England, meanwhile, Henry VIII dies, but his successors—son Edward, daughter "Bloody" Mary, and Protestant Elizabeth—also covet Scotland. In set pieces that range from spectacular battles and royal festivities to unruly meetings of the Scottish parliament, John deftly leads his bands of dalesmen and moss-troopers to victory; meets with the English to settle border disputes; and is asked by the now adult Mary, Queen of Scots, to talk secretly with the plotting English and convey the message to Queen Elizabeth that she will choose her own husband. A natural survivor, John dies in 1594, "the longest holder of the office on record."
Tranter's modest hero, a "Braveheart" of his time, offers a detailed, accessible take on life north of the border as armies and ideas clash, and monarchs and courtiers plot.