The old bedside table has been replenished by Santa and his elves. So we find the new reading year off to a cracking start, from an unlikely source. Neil Oliver is perhaps best known for lank hair blowing in the winds of the coastlines, or even some disputed versions of Scottish history. I’ll leave aside this historian’s views of Scotland’s future.
His first dip into fiction, not unexpectedly, relies deeply on historical facts, and on Scotland. Master of Shadows rattles on at a pace, taking us to distant lands, and exciting times.
Oliver manages to tie in Border Reivers and the Lord of the Isles, and see us though to the end of Byzantium, the sack of Constantinople. More than the author’s name it was the draw of the Golden Horn that pulled me in. The route may be fanciful at times, as mercenaries and janissaries clash before the white walls of the ancient city and rich Scots brogues ring out whilst Sultan Mehmet and Emperor Constantine reach their pivotal point on the Sea of Marmara.
But Oliver has something for everyone, with quests to find parents and children, and love interests as the battle for supremacy rages on. We have the chase across the heather, the pilgrim routes of Europe, the influence of Rome, and finally we arrive at the gateway to Asia.
And even the Maid of Orleans has a part to play, a significant one at that. But it is a good yarn for a’ that.