Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review of Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika

In Blue Bells of Scotland, Laura Vosika spins a captivating tale that combines historical fiction with time travel and a bit of reverse alternate history cleverly woven in. Instead of changing the final outcome of an important historical event, Vosika changes the history at the start of the novel so that her time traveler changes it to what actually is. Although the grandfather paradox is mentioned, no consequences are shown for the changed history that the time travel generated such as people disappearing as if they never existed. The pacing flows from a measured cadence at the start of the tale and builds to a climatic crescendo reminiscent of Ravel’s Bolero.

Just before the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn, the two main characters, Shawn Kleiner, a twenty-first century classical trombonist who has rock-star fame, switches places with Niall Campbell, a fourteenth century lord, soldier, and harpist. Niall and Shawn are effectively clones, and so are seen by their peers to be the persons they were expected to be. One thing that often bothers me in time travel tales is how the time traveler is able to understand radically different versions of the same language. For example, in addition to Gaelic, Niall knew Middle English, which is not readily intelligible to Modern English speakers. Here is a sample from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

Heere bigynneth The Knyghtes Tale

WHILOM, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;

Visually, this may be more understandable for us than if we heard it, because of the way pronunciations changed. In Monty Python and The Holy Grail, knight was pronounced ki-nig-it. This is probably the way knight was said then as one of the members of Monty Python, Terry Jones, is a medievalist. Vosika shows how Niall works through the language change in a believable way.

Vosika created a plausible background for both characters that allowed them to function—albeit awkwardly—in the others time. I was able to suspend my disbelief that these two men had these skills and were physically identical to each other. I particularly liked Shawn’s transformation from an arrogant womanizer who only thinks about himself and what people can do for him, to an unpretentious loyal friend—a man ready to lay down his life for a cause he believes in.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a story to me is that I become invested in the characters. Blue Bells of Scotland does not disappoint. Both Shawn and Niall are fully fleshed and I could imagine having a conversation with each. In addition to the two main characters, I feel I got to know and cared for Amy, Shawn’s lover. One negative in my mind is the author sprang a significant revelation about Amy where I did not see the behavior as consistent with her character. My apologies for being vague, but I do not want to introduce spoilers. One character that I would have like to have known better was Allene, a feisty, self-sufficient medieval noblewoman and Niall’s betrothed. I look forward to learning more about her in the second book.

Of some minor concern was that I thought the prose could have been tighter and I found a few typos. I soon forgot these as I became absorbed by the story. This is one book that I found hard to put down.

Even though this is only the first book, I found the ending sufficiently satisfying, giving me the patience to wait for the second of the trilogy. That said; write faster, Laura. I want to read more.

Blue Bells of Scotland may be purchase from

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