The Spider and the Stone:
A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas
Author: Glen Craney
Release date: 2014
also available as ebook
Genre: Historical Fiction
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
For once, let’s leave France and go visit Scotland with The Spider and the Stone, which highlights one of the major pages of the conflict between England and Scotland, in the first half of the 14th century.
This is not an easy book. It has many characters, on the side of the Scots, the English, as well as the French and religious orders. So like for many historical novels, I suggest you take notes as you read, to keep track of who’s who, and who stands for or against whom, especially as alliances tend to vary!
I enjoyed the way the author set the tone and described the characters involved.
They are real and very identifiable:
- the Douglases, William and his son James, the famous Black Douglas who tenaciously helped Scotland stand against the English
- Isabella of France, “the most dangerous and reviled woman in all the Isles”,
- and her father King Philip IV, the Fair
- another Isabella, rather Isabelle, MacDuff, married against her will, but instead in love with James Douglas
- Edward I, Plantagenet, “Longshanks”, “The Hammer of the Scots”
- and his son Edward Caernervon (prince of Wales), to be Edward II
- of course with his all too dear Piers Gaveston
- William Wallace, leader of the rebellion
- Robert Bruce – the Bruces are Scots, but considered too close to the English and Edward’s lackeys
- and Bishop Lamberton, to name just a few of the key characters
Basically the book covers the years 1296-1358, with all the bloody conflicts (starting with Berwick in 1296) between the Scots and the English, the Scots working hard to gain their independence. The defiance and perseverance of both Isabella and Isabelle are very instrumental.
We first meet Isabelle as a teen, eager to see the famous Stone of Destiny, crucial for the story of Scotland and the legitimacy of its kings.
I liked the title, with its full meaning revealed later in the book.
This is history in all its complexity, and the English playing with the rivalry between the different Scots tribes to be sure they won’t unite to fight against England.
Things are even more muddled if you add to the mix the role of the Papacy and the ambiguous position of the Templars. Templars were extremely rich and were an important power to take into consideration – King Philip’s only goal was to eradicate them and take their money, basically.
The book took a weird turn for me at chapter 35, with all the conspiracies connected to some supposedly connection between the Templars, the Nasoreans (non-Pauline followers for Christ) and the Culdees. And the fact that the Stone of Destiny might have been related to the Ark of the Covenant, hence needed to build “the New Jerusalem” in a country off the coast of Ireland…
Suddenly I felt we left history for theories that have no serious basis (a good knowledge of Biblical history helps not mix “les torchons et le serviettes”, as we say in French).
I also felt there was a big chunk of history missing between chapters 36 and 37, and what Isabella had suddenly become.
The book (or is it only in the ebook version?) needs some editing: there are many words repeated in the same sentence, or put in a wrong order.
One last intriguing thing: why use the English word for Dominicans, Templars, but call Jeanne a “Cistercienne”? The English word Cistercian is totally accepted still used in the British Isles as well as in the United States, or any other English speaking countries where there are still today many vibrant abbeys of Cistercian nuns.
Plus, I disagree to call Jeanne a “Templar ‘Cistercienne’ [sic.]” Saint Bernard did write a rule for the Templars, but their way of life was really not that of the Cistercians. The Order of the Cistercians was born at Cîteaux (hence their name) in 1098, not the Templars.
EN DEUX MOTS :
Ce roman historique met en lumière les conflits entre les Anglais et les Écossais, luttant pour leur indépendance, dans le contexte plus large de puissances européennes et religieuses. Deux femmes de caractère jouent un rôle central. La fin est bizarre et détonne du reste du livre à mon avis.
VERDICT: Good presentation of the bloody conflicts between England and Scotland as the Scots fought for their independence, helped here through the strength and perseverance of two women.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Glen Craney holds graduate degrees from Indiana University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to cover national politics and the Iran-contra trial for Congressional Quarterly magazine. The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best About the Author new screenwriting, and he is a three-time finalist for Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Award. His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, was honored as Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards. His books have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, to the Scotland of Robert Bruce, to Portugal during the Age of Discovery, to the trenches of France during World War I, and to the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression.
AMPAS Nicholl Fellow Winner
Nautilus Silver Award Winner
IPPY Silver Award Winner
NIEA Award Winner for Best New Fiction
Eric Hoffer Finalist/Honorable Mention Winner
Three-Time Foreword Magazine Book-of-the-Year Finalist
Da Vinci Eye Award Finalist
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Certainly seems like something isn’t quite right about the editing of this book. My knowledge of this period of history is a bit vague but if I need to keep notes while reading I think I’ll pass….
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for me, lots of historical novels do need note taking, for instance the Druons about French history. well written, but many necessary characters, and on top, many people had the same first name. Just like in England, you van get a headache with all the Mathildes!!