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The Great War comes to the First Battalion Maclaren Highlanders--and major confusion will come to any readers who haven't already followed the Maclarens and the Bruces from 1857 in The Maclarens (1978) and The Regiment (1979), this being volume #3 in Skelton's ""Regiment Quartet."" As before, the action alternates between soap-opera on the homefront and heroism/agony on the battlefield--with virtually all the male Maclarens and Bruces eventually going off to the grim doings in France, most of them joining the family regiment. Among the beloved soldiers: clan leader Sir Ian, who comes out of retirement to preside over the regiment as Colonel; field-commander Gordon Bruce; Gordon's nephew Johnny, first to go, first to be seriously wounded; Johnny's longtime rival Tenny Maclaren, Ian's handsome heir; Tenny's brother Albert, who refuses Maclaren privileges to enlist as a ""private soldier""; family friend Torquil Farquhar, soon a severe shell-shock victim and disillusioned hero; and pacifist Harry Bruce, who'll turn up as a brave medic. Meanwhile, the women of the family are in assorted stews. Mixed-blooded Naomi Bruce, a liberated London woman and super-nurse (secret, long-ago bedmate of Sir Ian), wickedly sends her teenage son Robert (an Ian by-blow) up to Scotland with gorgeous governess Rebecca Galloway--a low-born, well-bred lass who promptly captivates both Johnny and Tenny. Tenny's sister Emma remains devoted to Torquil until his suicide; then, while nursing in France, she winds up in love with Harry Bruce. The other Maclaren sister, Philippa, who also loves Torquil (unrequited), becomes a sour antiwar activist, enraging papa Ian. And flighty Susan Bruce develops an inconvenient passion for one of the regiment's lower-class recruits--a miner's son. Eventually, then, Rebecca and Johnny will marry (over family objections), with an angry Rebecca discovering sex and double-standards on her wedding night; Naomi rages at Sir Ian when their underage/illegitimate son runs off to war; there's a birth (Gordon Bruce's son), a death (old Willie Bruce), and a final confrontation between Sir Ian and son Tenny--who refuses to send his men on a virtual suicide mission. Neophytes will be lost when it comes to unraveling half-breed bloodlines and Maclaren/Bruce connections. But series veterans will find this a reliable, if unoriginal, mix of unglamorous warfare (gas, wire, cold, trenches), star-crossed romances, old family tensions, and tetchy class-conflicts.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Crown