In his latest novel, Gold (The Lost Testament, 1996, etc.) explores a marginalized part of history and introduces an admirable heroine.
Plucky Scot Flora Macdonald is enamored of Charles Stuart, who's come to Scotland to claim his throne only to be ignominiously defeated by the Duke of Cumberland. Flora helps “Bonnie Prince Charlie” escape, hoping he'll return one day with more troops. Flora sleeps with the handsome young man, and they perform a secret, symbolic marriage ceremony before he escapes to France. Flora’s actions make her a legend across Scotland but also bring her to the attention of the British, and she's imprisoned in the Tower of London and used as a pawn by the heir to the throne before giving birth to Charlie’s son (whose father everyone assumes is her fiance). Fast-forward 25 years, and Flora, now living in America with her family on the brink of the Revolution, believes she must expose her secret so her son can claim his royal birthright. The larger historical background of the Enlightenment leading to both the American and French revolutions is interesting, and the Scottish struggle is poignant, but all the other characters, including everyone from the prince to David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Johnson, seem to show up primarily to prove Flora’s worth beyond a doubt. The dialogue, unfortunately, is stilted and pompous; almost everyone speaks in speeches, and Flora herself usually ends up “burst[ing] out laughing,” apparently proving her charm. Hardly any character is developed enough to feel three-dimensional, and this gets at the heart of the novel’s weakness: too much telling and not enough showing.
The story should have been gripping, but instead it seems to happen at great distance, failing to reclaim this history for a modern audience.