The Forest Laird: A Tale of William Wallace

Whyte, Jack. Forge: Tor. 2012. c.483p. ISBN 9780765331564. $25.99. F

Whyte traces the life, development, and awesomeness of William Wallace who, after he became Mel Gibson and insulted Jewish people everywhere, was one of the main dudes leading 13th-century Scotland’s independence movement*. Through a cleverly invented narrator, Wallace’s cousin Jamie, Whyte describes daily routines and historical events and lays down the detail needed to convey a story of this historical complexity. As a monk, Jamie’s dual concerns are learning (he’s the abbey’s librarian) and serving as liaison between church and nobility; these jobs give him insight into the political attitudes of everyone from the royalty to the peasants. Jamie also chronicles Will’s growth into a fleshed-out hero/outlaw/rebel/patriot. The details that usually bog historical fiction down to “unreadable” are here, but damn if Whyte doesn’t manage to keep things engaging and consistently paced. One learns of archering as well as monking (Wallace begins as a bowman): “Iberian yew was unobtainable now in its native form, since most of Iberia had fallen to the Moors in the eighth century, but prudent merchants had salvaged a few thousand seedlings and saplings from the largely unoccupied but still contested areas of Galicia and Asturias during the tenth century, and plantations had been established in Italia and had flourished there, precious and close guarded.” Wait, did Proust write this?
So…why should dudes read it?It’s thick. There’s brotherhood, patriotism, and political intrigue. And archery. Plus there’s just enough Scottish dialect to leave a hint of haggis.


*
Never mind that a scant 400 freaking years later England and Scotland joined up again anyway, thus wasting the lives of thousands of soldiers and “all those innocent contractors” hired to fix the castles and schlep the catapults and grog for the armies.

This review appeared in Books for Dudes: The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the Ugly Guys in Six Suspenseful New Novels, February 21, 2012. The galley was shredded on May 12, 2012.

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