"Bonnie Dundee" was John Graham of Claverhouse (1648-1689), the Scottish soldier who led the first Jacobite uprising, known to his enemies (the fanatic Protestant "Covenanters") as "Bloody Claver'se." To the Highlanders, however, he was a hero. And he was the hero to Sutcliff's narrator here: Hugh Herriot, who—as an elderly painter in 18th-century Rotterdam—recalls his Scottish youth in the 1680s. Orphaned son of an itinerant artist, Hugh goes to live with his mother's largely unsympathetic, partly "Covenanter" family; at 13 he sees his cousin Alan join in a bloody raid (a drummer lad among the casualties) on the troops of Benpie Dundee, who steadfastly support England's King Charles II. Horrified, Hugh is happy to be sent away, becoming a stable boy on Lord Dundonel's estate. Then, when Dundonel's lovely granddaughter Jean marries Dundee (to the horror of her Covenanter kin), Hugh eagerly accepts Lady Jean's invitation to come along, as riding groom, to her new castle-home with the King's Scottish soldier. And, at 16, Hugh joins Dundee's anti-rebel, anti-Covenanter regiment (now sworm to support King James II), delivering, crucial messages as the general's "galloper" and—in self-defense—killing his own cousin Alan. But what will happen when, in 1688, King James more or less allows himself to be overthrown by William of Orange, disbanding his faithful troops? Unlike other loyalists, Dundee refuses to give up the cause: he tries to keep Scotland from hailing William as king; he marches through the Highlands, gathering clan support; he leads them all into battle against the new king's forces—a brief, sad triumph, leaving Dundee dead and the cause shattered. But, even though he himself never "cared a straw for King James," Hugh's loyalty to Dundee remains intact—and he becomes one of the exile-rebel "Wild Geese," losing an arm in battle. . . before turning to painting as a career, reuniting with true-love Darklis (Jean's lady-in-waiting) in Holland. Some readers may find the remote, relatively complex history a bit daunting here—not to mention the Scots dialect. But Sutcliff wisely makes the issues a minor concern, background to more immediate matters of personal loyalty and honor. So, with additional texture from Darklis' part-gypsy heritage and the authentic details on period-painting, this is rich, tough-minded, warm-hearted historical fiction on the very highest level: an invigorating blend of action, color, and romance.

Pub Date: June 11, 1984

ISBN: 0844663638

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1984

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