The second of her Insurrection trilogy, Robyn Young’s Renegade sees the return of Robert Bruce’s quest to sit on Scotland’s throne. As King Edward of England is closing in on Scotland, the former king John Balliol and the rebel William Wallace are stuck abroad and Robert is on a fruitless quest in Ireland. Will the Scot ever be able to return to his homeland and bring Scotland under his control, or is it too late to avoid the clutch of the English?

Young’s first trilogy, Brethren, proved her ability to make medieval history to come alive and she does it again with Renegade. A knowledge of events during the early 14th century aren’t necessary as Young weaves a dark tale that encapsulates the reader on a journey, to the point where we almost forget that these events are based on real life. From rugged Scotland to the crowded streets of London, Young’s detailed research in preparation for this novel pays off through her seamless descriptions.

Even if you haven’t read the first novel in this trilogy, Renegade is still very much enjoyable. It had been a long time since I had read Insurrection, yet the plot of Renegade is still easy to follow. The only concern for some may be the long list of characters. At times the novel seems like a historical version of Game of Thrones, with countless lords and earls vying for the control of Scotland. Yet with a handy list of characters at the back, if you are ever confused as to who is who, you need only flick to that for reference.

The plot line is also fast paced and filled with bloody battles and endless conspiring. Putting aside one rather graphic description of an execution, the battles are well told and even realistic. Young, however, never gets carried away and there is always a section of light relief to slow down the pace again during this hefty novel. What I don’t particularly enjoy, however, is Young’s tendency to rely on flashback when there is no need. When Robert is recalling his grandfather’s determination to sit on Scotland’s throne for example, a flashback to a particular event that demonstrates this detracts from the pace and tension of the plot.

Another negative to what is otherwise a great novel is the lack of likeable characters. It is hard to have sympathy for a main character who appears to have no compunction against murdering kinsman and enemies. The female characters who we could sympathise with fade into insignificance despite their small sections interspersed during the book. Young’s dedication to the true history of Robert Bruce and King Edward has unfortunately ruined any chance of having a character that we sympathise with which reduces the impact of any of their deaths.

Young’s talent as a historical fiction novelist, however, cannot be denied. Renegade is a typically bloody and intriguing affair for any lover of historical fiction, and I hope that the concluding novel, due to be released in June next year, will provide a cracking end to this trilogy.

by Julia Molloy

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