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Nigel Tranter

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Volgadon
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Postby Volgadon » Tue September 23rd, 2008, 4:39 pm

Hmm, with Tranter I feel as if I'm reading a nationalist textbook.

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Kveto from Prague
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the bruce trilogy

Postby Kveto from Prague » Fri September 26th, 2008, 9:22 pm

I read the bruce trilogy. i remember thinking it was ok but not feeling any need to reread it. i think if you are a big fan of scots history and that period in particular you may fancy it. it did seem overlong at times but the history feels solid. especially the point where robert bruce was literally down to about a dozen men serving him.

dont know its availability in the states. i got my copy on discount in Edinborgh

keny from prague

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LiteratusGuru
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Postby LiteratusGuru » Sat May 29th, 2010, 4:48 pm

I know people have stopped writing on this thread, but I found Nigel Tranter's work to be some of the strangest, most challenging, and historically informative there is. Also, I'm new here. So, I wanted to chime in. I seldom see Tranter's books for sale here in the U.S. at any type of bookstore, used or new. I believe that the only way to get them is via an online merchant. At least they aren't expensive.

Tranter frequently wrote in series format. I began his Stewart triloogy with the first book, Lords of Misrule, and can recommend that one as a good read if you are trying to get into Tranter. Set in 14th century Scotland, the novel has as its backdrop the intrigues of the power struggle that took place as various factions wrested for who would take the throne once Robert the Bruce's grandson, now feeble, blind, old and dying finally moved on. What I liked about the novel was how the protagonist, a minor nobleman named Jamie, crossed family lines to try to assist who he thought was the more deserving of the factions, while not getting killed for doing so. Particularly interesting was trying to figure out if the person he was helping 1) truly needed the help or was just using Jamie for some hidden purpose, 2) was a decent enough person to be deserving of Jamie's loyalty, and 3) whether the right person really won the throne in the end. The romantic interests, though not a major part of the novel, worked well for me, and I think Tranter did fine with Jamie's love interest.

Nevertheless, Tranter's writing does seem slightly misogynistic to me, based on my reading of this one novel and two others I began but was diverted from. Tranter's female characters tend to come in two varieties 1) vacuous-headed powerful men's sexual playthings who don't have "no" in their vocabulary, and 2) Macbethian wives, all after power but using manipulation of a male idiot to acquire it.

I am not sure about what people refer to when they call Tranter "dry", or say that his dialog is "choppy". I saw no evidence of that in Lords of Misrule. For me, the real challenge was to try to keep all Tranter's many characters straight. Minor ones flow into the narrative and back out in less than a page only to reappear 140 pages later. Tranter tends to assume his reader remembers every character, even if he mentions one just in passing as sitting at a dinner table along with ten others in the same paragraph. Not only are we to remember the character, but he also expects the reader to remember the character's political position, previous role, associations and motivation; Tranter seldom provides reminders. The good point of this is that the narrative can speed along. I keep a character chart with page numbers and often refer back in the text when reading Tranter.
Last edited by LiteratusGuru on Sat May 29th, 2010, 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Margaret
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Postby Margaret » Sat May 29th, 2010, 5:23 pm

It's always possible to revive a thread! Thanks for adding your perspective, Literatus. I've only read one or two Tranter novels and did find the ones I read disappointingly dry. My sense is that his work could be quite uneven. Also, he was dedicated to presenting the full sweep of Scottish history in his novels, and some periods of Scottish history lend themselves particularly well to the storytelling form while others are less dynamic. (I haven't read Tranter's Mary Queen of Scots novels, for example, but I think it would be hard to write a dynamic novel about a woman who seems to have been rather whiny and was locked up for much of her adult life. On the other hand, Susan Higginbotham's The Traitor's Wife really blazes to life and becomes rivetingly interesting after the heroine is imprisoned, so one can't really generalize.)

Anyway, I will keep Lords of Misrule in mind, because I feel that Tranter was a writer of some significance and would like to feature a review of one of his better novels on my site. Alas, my library doesn't have a copy, nor does Powell's, and I tend to have bad luck with used novels at Amazon, because they frequently arrive saturated with someone's perfume, which I'm allergic to. Tranter's novels can be awfully hard to find in the U.S., and unfortunately, his better ones (at least by repute) are often among the hardest to find.
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Ariadne
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Postby Ariadne » Sat May 29th, 2010, 5:43 pm

I haven't read Lords of Misrule but looked it up on Fantastic Fiction and see it was first written in the 1970s. As is the case with Jean Plaidy, I find that his earlier novels were better written, and with less stereotypical characterization, than the ones published toward the end of his life. The clipped dialogue was very apparent to me in the books he wrote in the '90s. His characters spoke in very short sentence fragments, which took some getting used to.

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Misfit
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Postby Misfit » Sat May 29th, 2010, 5:53 pm

Alas, my library doesn't have a copy, nor does Powell's, and I tend to have bad luck with used novels at Amazon, because they frequently arrive saturated with someone's perfume, which I'm allergic to.


It's always the cigarette smoke that kills me. Have you tried Thrift books? I've had good luck with them and their main shipping location is in south Seattle so even media mail comes pretty quickly. And they do have copies of Lords available, http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewDetails.aspx?ISBN=0340223030

If you are on Paperbackswap they have at least one available as well and you can add requestor conditions (no perfume, etc.) to your books.
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Postby LiteratusGuru » Sat May 29th, 2010, 7:19 pm

"Margaret" wrote: (I haven't read Tranter's Mary Queen of Scots novels, for example, but I think it would be hard to write a dynamic novel about a woman who seems to have been rather whiny and was locked up for much of her adult life. Tranter's novels can be awfully hard to find in the U.S., and unfortunately, his better ones (at least by repute) are often among the hardest to find.


Thank you everyone for your kind words to this newbie. My favorite site for locating that next-to-impossible-to-obtain book is http://www.bookfinder.com. If the book is not listed there for sale, it's probably not available anywhere other than through the author directly. I also like how their database lists things in price order, cheapest to most expensive. It is necessary to check all the links of the various different editions to get that best price for book condition though.

It's funny you mention Tranter's Mary Queen of Scots novel. It is titled Warden of the Queen's March, and is one of the two I put down after beginning. (The other one I put down was A Folly of Princes, the second one in the Stewart trilogy. Tranter's misogyny in the beginning of that novel, however historically accurate it may be, was nevertheless offputting. So many of Tranter's sex scenes seem so purely gratuitous.)

Anyhow, Warden of the Queen's March, if you decide to try it, will be a real challenge, not only for the reason you mention -- that is, how much action can there be with someone stuck in a castle the entire book? -- but it also has some of Tranter's more sterotypical difficult features. I count 33 different characters mentioned in the first 12 pages alone, almost none of them properly introduced. Also, the writing technique he employed has the obvious problems other posters mentioned.

To provide a typical technique example, look at this excerpt which comes before page 1, it begins the splash page of the book, the page that is supposed to entice readers into the novel: "There was a surge forward of the waiting crowd, so that the lofty ones at the front were in danger of being pushed off into the water, to their outraged cries, these lost however in the general cheering, as Mary paused in midgangway to smile brilliantly and wave." The sentence may be long, but I suspect even Henry James would cringe. Or, take this section, just a few lines down: "Standing there, however, radiant, lovely, lissome, graceful and so obviously vivacious and mettlesome, she certainly showed no other aspect of mourning or sadness, joyful expectancy rather, and eager anticipation. That smile was a delight. Thomas, for one, was fascinated, quite smitten. Perhaps romantically inclined anyway, he decided there and then that here was the most delicious creature it had ever been his fortune to set eyes upon."

Too funny, isn't it? After all this consideration of the book, I suddenly find myself inspired to give it another try. If I can't make it through this time, I will trade the book away on http://www.frugalreader.com.
Last edited by LiteratusGuru on Sat May 29th, 2010, 7:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Kveto from Prague
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Postby Kveto from Prague » Sat May 29th, 2010, 8:16 pm

hi Guru,

Im kinda lukewarm on tranter myself. I enjoyed "black douglas" and the bruce trilogy. disliked his later efforts like "balefire". hes not an author id seek out but if you put a book by him in my hands ill probably read it through.

one thing i expected to find in his novels i read but didnt find was overt nationalism. you kind of figure he will write "scots good, English bad" type of stuff but he was pretty good about avoiding that. he had at least as many "bad" scots. like in the bruce trilogy which would lend itself to making the Edwards I and II cartoonish bad guys from the scots perspective, he was pretty even-handed even if showing they were doing some dirty rotten things.

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Margaret
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Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
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Postby Margaret » Sun May 30th, 2010, 6:33 am

Thanks, guys! I snagged a copy of Lords of Misrule at Thriftbooks. The site is really easy to navigate, and they don't charge extra for S&H, which always wins my heart.
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Postby Carla » Sun May 30th, 2010, 1:01 pm

Warden of the Queen's March was one of the Nigel Tranter novels I mentioned as being rambling and with not much of a story (http://carlanayland.blogspot.com/2006/10/nigel-tranters-historical-novels.html). I must say I'd forgotten how cringeworthy some of the style is until you posted the quotes, Literatus. Let's say it's not high on my list to re-read :-)

I don't think I've tried Lords of Misrule. Thanks for the recommendation!
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