The Douglas Archives

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La piedra del destino by Jesús Maeso de la Torre

"Wasp" reviews  La piedra del destino by Jesús Maeso de la Torre:
This doorstop of a Spanish novel deals with the death of the Scots knight Sir James Douglas at Teba (southern Spain) in 1330. He had traveled there in fulfillment of a promise to his friend and lord, the late King Robert Bruce of Scotland. On his death bed the Bruce had asked that his heart be carried in battle against the Muslim 'enemies of God' as a token of his unrealised vow to go on crusade and so purge his soul of all the blood on his conscience (The irony of that contradiction never seems to attract comment). This historical event is the origin of the legend of Douglas throwing the embalmed heart in its silver casket into the midst of the encroaching Moors crying "Lead on... and I will follow thee or die!" (or any number of other variations thereof)


The author has clearly looked at the sources and engaged enthusiastically with the subject (784 pages!) but for all that it's just not very good. It's a plodding, formulaic read, full of depressing cliches. The image of C14th Scotland is straight out of 'Braveheart' with its talk of clans, tartans and kilts as well as bizarrely mis-spelt Scots names rendered for the Castilian palate and a very sketchy knowledge of Scottish geography and landscape. When I read of Douglas' lands in 'Dumfries and Galloway' I threw the book at the wall. I skimmed through to the end because I wanted to see if it got better when he got his characters to Spanish soil but even the romance wish a Spanish harlot didn't improve matters and the climactic battle was just incoherent.

This is historical fiction by numbers and, oddly enough, is so clunky it reads like a bad novel in English translated into Spanish, although as a language Castilian never seems to me to have the same vivacity in written prose as it does when spoken.

Having being recommended 'La Piedra del Destino' by a local of Teba, I was interested that a Spanish author should be writing about this curious footnote to Scottish history (and folklore) but although he spins a fair enough yarn out of the sketchy sources his imagination does not match his invention and it never comes convincingly to life.

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