I was really torn about what to rate this book because there were parts of it that I really enjoyed and parts that made me want to just close this book and never open it again. The beginning and the end were the parts that I liked, and unfortunately the 500 pages in the middle of this 700 page volume were not very enjoyable for me.
The Forest Laird is "A Tale of William Wallace" - it's sort of like a prequel to Braveheart. It covers the life of William Wallace from childhood up to the point where they kill his wife (which is where the film Braveheart essentially begins), and it's told from the perspective of Jamie Wallace, who is a cousin and childhood friend of William's. The whole story is basically historical speculation about William's early life, based on some more recent findings and historical essays that have been produced in the post-Braveheart era.
The best part of this book, for me, was its treatment of the politics at the time. I felt like most of the characters were adequately explained and that the historical setting was pretty easy to understand without being too textbookish. There were a couple of chapters where the narrator (Jamie Wallace) is forced to stop and explain what was going on, so that felt a little weak to me, but in general it made the complex political atmosphere of the time very accessible and not too boring.
My main problem with this novel is that it felt too contrived. I know that the author was trying to be as historically accurate as possible (within the realm of speculation, of course) but you could practically feel him straining to produce a narrative within the constraints of historical facts. It felt like the author was saying "Okay, and then on this date this has to happen, so let's just bring these two characters there and give him a horse and it should all fit together," which just seemed artificial as I was reading it.
And the ultimate reason why I gave this book 2 stars instead of 3 or 4 (because I started out with a 4-star rating at the beginning, and dropped it to 2 during that 500 page lull, and ultimately didn't decide to increase it even though I liked the ending) is because I feel like this book should make me understand William Wallace as a human being, as opposed to a legend, and I don't think it accomplished that. Jamie and William have very similar childhoods and basically live in the same environment until they're into their late teens, but there's no real explanation why Jamie would become a priest and William would become a fierce, inspiring leader of men. It seemed like even Jamie, the narrator, was confused by William's transformation, and that just left me feeling very dissatisfied. So 2 stars...