Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review: Rob Roy

So, lately, I've been feeling in need of a little swashbuckling to lift my spirits.  I've had this copy of Rob Roy for years now, but hadn't got around to reading it.  I figured a little Scottish warlord action would be just the thing to take my mind off money worries, rejection worries, am-I-really-cut-out-for-this worries.  After all, these guys had real problems to deal with.  You know, war, cattle thievery, duels, and whatnot.  I can honestly say that I've never had to deal with the prospect of having to pay protection money to a rogue Highlander to make sure my nice, fat herd of cattle stay put.

Warning to those who intend to read this book someday:  there will be spoilers ahead.  Proceed with caution.

Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I was pleasantly surprised! The writing is fluid, events move quickly, and once the mysterious events are put in motion, I really did want to find out what the hell Rashleigh (the villain) has on Diana (the love interest).

The main character, Frank Osbaldistone, is the straight man here.  Don't look to him for wit or excitement.  He's there as a foil for all the super-interesting people around him. Basically, he decides he doesn't want to take over his father's massive accounting firm; oh no, this guy would rather write shitty poetry all day.  His father sends him to the family estate in the northern wilds of England.  There, he'll basically sit and rot among his lame-ass relatives until his father decides to call him back and give him another shot at the family business.

On the road to his family estate, he travels with another guy headed north named Morris.  Morris is a huge chickenshit who constantly fears being attacked by bandits.  Eventually, Morris and Frank separate and go their own ways.  (This is important later, because some crazy stuff happens to Morris after Frank leaves.)

When Frank gets to Osbaldistone Hall, he meets his lame-ass relatives who obey a simple mantra in life: eat, drink, hunt, repeat.  He also meets Diana Vernon, a cousin.  She's whip-smart, beautiful, and seems to do whatever the hell she wants around the place.  Frank soon notices, however, that there's something creepy and mysterious going on between Diana and one of his Osbaldistone cousins, Rashleigh.  Although Diana obviously has the hots for Frank (as he does for her), Rashleigh is always in the way--this guy pretends not to have a vested interest, but you just know he's working behind the scenes to eff up Frank's chances with Diana.  Not cool, dude.  Not cool at all.

One of the big surprises in the book, for me, is the fact that almost two hundred pages of it go by here at Osbaldistone Hall.  Not in Scotland.  Not a Roy Roy in sight.  (Okay, so technically, he did appear in disguise, but I'm not counting that and neither should you.)  I didn't have a problem with this because the goings-on at Osbaldistone Hall are interesting, and Diana Vernon is a freaking awesome character.  I got the sense that if she lived now, she'd be a Charlie's Angel or the woman Angelina Jolie's character only wishes she could be in The Tourist.

Anyway, after the 200-page mark, the real conflict begins to unfold.  Without delving too deeply into the plot, it goes a little something like this:  Frank-o flees to Scotland and participates in some intrigues relative to his father's business and a coming Jacobite uprising against the Hanoverian crown.  While in Scotland, you meet Rob Roy Campbell MacGregor and his wife Helen MacGregor.  Dude, Helen MacGregor is the reason they invented Valium.  This woman is seriously pissed off, like, all the time.  So pissed off, in fact, that she orders the murder of Morris.

The murder scene was riveting.  I wasn't sure Scott would pull the trigger on this one.  I kept thinking Morris would get out of it, but then the moment happened, and away he went.  I won't tell you how they got rid of him, but let's just say it's not the way you want to go.  Much like Vronsky's horse-racing scene in Anna Karenina, this is a scene that grabs your attention and refuses to let it go.  It doesn't matter when it was written or where or why--it's exciting, it's nerve-wracking, and you can't help but feel for these characters.

My reaction to Rob Roy was harder to define.  He is one of those characters that I didn't appreciate until he was off-stage.  While he was there, he was moderately interesting--balanced, fair, violent when he had to be, determined, and strangely honorable.  But you don't fully appreciate these qualities until you're stuck in a scene with Frank-o, Andrew Fairservice (annoying as hell!), and Nicol Jarvie (pleasant in a non-remarkable, only mildly annoying kind of way).  Then you realize what Rob Roy's character really brings to the table:  the experience and gravity of someone who has really lived.  He's killed, he's been imprisoned, he's escaped from prison, he's stolen some cattle, he's had his own cattle stolen.  Save Helen, none of these other characters can match the depth of Rob Roy's experience and it shows.

At the end of the book, Scott ties up all his loose ends.  You find out what was really going on between Rashleigh and Diana.  You find out what happens with the brewing Jacobite rebellion.  You find out how the major characters end their days.  Because the book was written in the 19th century, modern readers might get the sense that everything is tied up a little too neatly.  This was a convention of the time, though, so don't hold it against Scott.  It doesn't detract from the book's high points at all.

Overall, there are plenty of reasons to read this book:
*Diana Vernon
*Rob Roy
*Morris's murder scene
*Beautiful descriptions of Scottish clan life and Scottish landscape

There are also a few things you're going to have to take with a grain of salt:
*Freakin' long-ass passages in Scotch dialect.  If you're not into the whole "Scots wha hae" thing, you're in for some rough going once the characters make it to Scotland.
*Straight-man main character
*Andrew Fairservice

If you do read this one, I'd love to know what you think!