The Spider and the Stone by Glen Craney

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A tantalizing look at the life of James Douglas, or The Black Douglas as he was called by those who feared him.  My only real venture into this part of history was Braveheart, but that centers on William Wallace, not the man who rose to become the right hand of Robert the Bruce in the long standing war with Edward Longshanks and his son Edward Caernarvon.  I was drawn into this epic tale right from the start; the intensity of the narrative grabbed and never let go.  The characters are beautifully written, from the morose, melancholic Bruce, the savage brutality of Longshanks, the effervescent monk Ned Sweeney, the redoubtable Belle, the scheming Isabella, and of course, the continually torn Jamie Douglas.  The author presents the events and the time such that one can feel the thunderous approach of  Longshank’s heavy horse, or the bitter Scottish weather confronting the fleeing Bruce and Douglas.  An entertaining book to be sure; one that demands your attention to the detriment of sleep or other obligations.  4.8 stars

Lions of the Grail by Tim Hodkinson

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In Lions of the Grail I found myself transported to a time and place I am not too familiar with, the history of Northern Ireland and the invasion of it by The Bruce Brothers.  It seems that most everyone in that region wanted to rule Ireland except maybe the Irish who were too busy clan fighting to resist the English under King John or the upstart Scottish King Robert the Bruce.  It is in this chaotic period that we meet our protagonist Syr Richard Savage, formerly of Ulster but who joined The Knights Templar as a personal quest to find meaning in life.  Unfortunately for Savage, the Templars are declared heretics and are condemned by The Pope so after being betrayed by a former Templar now turned Knight Hospitaller, he has been incarcerated for 5 years awaiting his fate.  Fortunately for Savage, King John(the son of Longshanks) has a pressing need for a former Ulsterman to spy out what is happening in Ireland regarding the Scots and the rumors of invasion.

The author has given us a tale with an intriguing cast of characters from the effeminate King John, the duplicitous Templar turned Hospitaller, The Bruce brothers Robert and Edward, a host of Scots, Irish, and Norman descendants, loyal mercenaries and witchcraft accused mother and daughter.  The story runs the gamut of human emotions, love, hatred, loyalty, loss and redemption, to name a few.  It also has The Grail and how it came to be in possession of Robert the Bruce and how he uses it to gain allies.  Given the many Grail stories and tales that are out there I found that the author gives a credible rendition though perhaps not as good a one as in the Monty Python movie.  🙂

All in all, Lions of the Grail is a fast paced, intriguing story full of twists and turns, full of villainous treachery, full of valor and courage.  A thoroughly enjoyable story.  I rate it at 4.5 stars.