In the end, my Christmas Reading Vacation (henceforth CRV), boiled down to one book – the first volume of D.K. Broster‘s Jacobite Trilogy.
My choice fell on The Flight of the Heron because a stirring adventure in the Highlands seemed like fitting material for Christmas time, and I wasn’t disappointed.
To begin with, The Flight of the Heron is a colourful tale of derring-do, with two very different heroes. In spite of being orphaned at a young age, young laird Ewen Cameron has everything: a loving substitute family, an adoring clan, a lovely and plucky fiancée, an exquisite sense of honour – and he is even uncommonly handsome. He’d be at the risk of being insufferably perfect, if a sense of humour and a boyish touchiness weren’t there to redeem him. On the other hand, Captain Keith Windham (an Englishman, despite his first name) having known only neglect and betrayal in his life, has come to the decision that not having a heart is far less painful, and a distinguished military career is all a man needs… But then the Jacobite Rising of 1745 brings these two together – if on opposite fronts – and it may not mean much to Cameron, at least at first, except for a matter of punctiliousness and a weird prophecy, but the chance encounter changes everything for Windham.
And behind the battles and adventures, behind the tartans, fifes and drums, behind the second sight and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the true interest of this book lies in Keith Windham’s uneasy discovery that he still has a heart after all – one that yearns for friendship, chivalry and generosity. Oh yes – at first he tries to convince himself that he is moved by a regard for his own honour and the debt he owes Ewen Cameron… We, the readers, though, beat him to the realisation that the quixotic Highlander has broken through Windham’s bitterness. By the time the two find themselves tied in a complicated friendship, there is no turning back. And there will be a steep price to pay – as Windham is forced to make some very hard choices.
So in the end, while Ewen Cameron is the romantic hero, the loyal fighter for a doomed cause and everything – and indeed he has another redeeming quality in how he comes to struggle with his own doubts about the cause itself – I must say I enjoyed this book for the complexities and depth of the Englishman who finds himself again through an unexpected (and at first rather unwelcome) friendship.
And it is all rather intense and melodramatic and picturesque, and one has to bear in mind that it was written in 1925 – but really, in the end I had a nicely written, historically sound adventure, with a deeper story at its core, and a tear-jerker of an ending. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll go ahead and read the second volume* – but for a Christmas Reading Vacation, I could have done a lot worse.
* Especially because – and please, stop here if you haven’t read TFotH and don’t want it spoiled – the ending, while dramatically sound and indeed almost inescapable, removes the chief reason of interest, at least to me…