Title: Rose Nicolson
Author: Andrew Greig
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 5th August 2021
Embra, winter of 1574. Queen Mary has fled Scotland, to raise an army from the French. Her son and heir, Jamie is held under protection in Stirling Castle. John Knox is dead. The people are unmoored and lurching under the uncertain governance of this riven land. It’s a deadly time for young student Will Fowler, short of stature, low of birth but mightily ambitious, to make his name.
Fowler has found himself where the scorch marks of the martyrs burned at the stake can be seen on every street, where differences in doctrine can prove fatal, where the feuds of great families pull innocents into their bloody realm. There he befriends the austere stick-wielding philosopher Tom Nicolson, son of a fishing family whose sister Rose, untutored, brilliant and exceedingly beautiful exhibits a free-thinking mind that can only bring danger upon her and her admirers.
The lowly students are adept at attracting the attentions of the rich and powerful, not least Walter Scott, brave and ruthless heir to Branxholm and Buccleuch, who is set on exploiting the civil wars to further his political and dynastic ambitions. His friendship and patronage will lead Will to the to the very centre of a conspiracy that will determine who will take Scotland’s crown.
I love history and being Scottish myself, I find Scottish history fascinating. I think the best historical novels are the ones that fully immerse the reader in an entirely different time and place. Rose Nicolson does that, and more, with such skill and ease. The story follows William Fowler, a young student at St Andrews in the 16th Century – at a time of religious and philosophical discord. He meets another student, Tom Nicolson, exceedingly bright and brother to the also exceedingly bright and dangerously free-thinking titular Rose whom Will falls for immediately. Will finds himself caught up in a myriad of dramatic historical events of the time, especially after encountering and befriending Walter Scott. Rose Nicolson is fiction, however it is based on real people and events.
I found myself completely swept up in this absolute gem of a book. It is written interspersed with Scots dialect (with a very handy glossary at the back of the book) which gives it an authenticity and also an almost lyrical poetic feel. The prose flows beautifully and I challenge anyone not find themselves drawn in by the evocative language and imagery. Rose Nicolson covers some dark days and violent events but it also possesses a sharp and often humorous wit which makes it a total joy to read. It also feels strangely relevant – the discussions and debates may be different but Scotland remains a country of paradox and warring ideologies. I really could not recommend Rose Nicolson any more highly. It is vivid, intelligent, funny and powerfully moving. The questions it asks regarding philosophy, religion and politics are immense – but at the end of the day it is about people and the way we live and love. Stunning.
I kindly received a copy of the book from the publisher. My review is entirely my own honest opinion.