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Circle of Honor by Carol Umberger
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Mar 13, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: christian-historical-fiction

The only thing that this series is any good as are Romance novels as Historical fiction they fail on almost every account, and I would strongly advise readers against ‘learning’ their history from them, or basing their knowledge of the period upon them.

The storylines seemed formulaic, repetitive and predictable- hurting man/woman with issues falls for good looking girl/guy (usually also with issues) who they can’t stand at first, and end up falling hopelessly in love as is the change in political affiliations of the protagonists at least one of whom always begins on England’s side but ‘sees the light’ before the end of the book, realises how evil the English are, but righteous the cause of Scotland is and switches sides.
The villains are almost always one-dimensional, and have to go around doing really bad things like rape, murder, or killing children for the audience to realise how bad they are- yet their actions very often have little or no motivation- they just do what they do because they’re bad.

In this novel the ‘hurting woman’ is Gwyneth Comyn, a relative of the John Comyn was murdered by none other than Robert Bruce in a church (the official line that Comyn was an evil traitor and puppet of England who betrayed and provoked Bruce is followed of course). She is separated from her family and her betrothed after the murder, and forced to live incognito, gets raped by the bad guy whom she wrongly identifies as the hero Adam MacIntosh. He is a close friend of Robert Bruce and of course does not realize the true identity of the woman the law requires him to marry.

To cut a long story short, Adam and Gywneth must overcome lots of obstacles and difficulties before the course of their love can run smoothly, the bad guy does lots of nasty things and keeps trying to kill the hero, Gwyn gets persuaded to change sides by her cousin and the War with England begins in earnest.

Historically speaking, there are serious problems with the series. Principally I think this stemmed from a failure to grasp the complexities of medieval power politics, the root causes of the respective conflicts between Bruce and Comyn, Scotland and England, and gross the over-simplification of history.
I believe conflicts and events such as those depicted in these novels cannot really be whittled down to a simple matter of ‘goodies’ versus ‘baddies’ or righteous downtrodden Scots (or ‘Celts’) struggling against the malignant evil of the brutal English imperialists without a certain degree of distortion.

Hence, the need to have the characters ‘support the right’ and change sides from Scotland to England because they realise how evil one side is
results in characters being depicted as having switched their allegiance to Bruce when they did not do so in reality.
These include the Comyns who were not reconciled to Bruce as the novel claims, and in reality son of John Comyn was killed fighting on the English side at Bannockburn.
Or actions which might really have been motivated by self-interest or political expediency are presented as having been wrought in the patriotic cause of freedom.

Probably the worst (but most inevitable) historical inaccuracy was the way in which the English were claimed to have caused the war in Scotland and been behind the strife between Comyn and Bruce. Yet in reality Bruce and Comyn had rival claims to the Scottish throne, a circumstance which was almost bound to bring them into conflict, when the death of the old King and his heir had already resulted in much political unrest before England came into the picture.

Finally, I seriously wonder whether the depiction of Scots and English characters was based on any personal first- hand acquaintance with persons of these nationalities, as most seemed to be stereotyped.
The English characters all seemed to speak with ridiculous high class accents (like in Braveheart and other Hollywood movies). Most of the Scottish men wear kilts (several centuries too early), speak with exaggerated versions of Lowland accents (or Gaelic) but the French that was spoken by both the English and Scottish aristocracy of the period is almost entirely absent.
Perhaps the accents were intended to make the different nationalities more readily identifiable to an American audience, but I’m not wholly convinced this was the case, and I for one just find that sort of thing unrealistic and annoying.

Overall, this series is one to avoid if you are looking for a well-researched, historically accurate and realistic fictionalised account of this period in Scottish history, or even a half-decent historical novel.
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