Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"The Spider and the Stone" by Glen Craney – The Everlasting Defiance

We are certainly rather thankful that the time of monarchies and warring kingdoms has, for the most part, come to an end while leaving place for a more peaceful and civilized kind of society. Nevertheless, these bygone times stir our imaginations, leaving us in awe at the thought of the grandiose battles, conquests, and political chess games that must have transpired over the ages. The further we look back through time, the more facts and legends tend to mix together, and there are few authors who make such masterful use of that phenomenon as Glen Craney in The Spider and the Stone.

Set during the Scottish Wars of Independence, the novel tells of a rather epic story, the legend of Black Douglas (real name James Douglas) and his childhood friend, Robert the Bruce. Craney takes us on a historical trip where truth and imagination mix together seamlessly, recounting the dawn of the 14th century in Scotland in a much more entertaining fashion than we are used to. We are introduced to Edward Longsharks and his schemes to steal the Northern Kingdom, the frail and young Douglas who takes up arms and defies three monarchs of Plantagenet while helping his friend Robert with his plan to lead his men to a glorious battle on the field of Bannockburn.

The first thing you'll usually notice in a Glen Craney novel is the quality of the writing itself. Sentences flow seamlessly one after the other like waves in the ocean, and pages are devoured one after the next before you even know it. His magnificent descriptions of people as well as environments form very clear pictures in the mind of the reader, helping him to imagine things of great beauty as well as horror. The pacing of the story is also something to marvel at, with the author knowing exactly when and how to talk about which events to draw the greatest emotions out of us, when to leave characters emotionally devastated and when to reunite them with peace and success.

As was said before, Craney takes a fair number of liberties when it comes to historical accuracy, but he does so consciously without any pretense. For him, it is more important to tell an exciting and riveting story, even if it means stretching the truth or filling in the blanks with legends that are most likely just that. However, he does stick to the known historical facts that have been agreed upon by experts, which as a result never gives the reader the impression that they are reading a piece of fiction, but rather, a very eloquently-discussed historical chef-d'oeuvre.

As for the story itself, it is anything but imperfect. The characters are all described in great detail and made to be three-dimensional beings with complex motivations and thought processes (at least the ones that ought to be that way). The events progress at a relatively quick pace one after the other, with there being no filler to speak of. Craney really makes us feel the heavy impact of the countless tragedies the protagonists suffer through, as well as their indomitable will and hope of success in defeating the great lurking doom of the monarchy towering above them.

All things considered, The Spider and the Stone is a real tour-de-force as far as historical novels, giving us the perfect mixture of fact and imagination combined with elegant writing as well as solid character and world-building. One might say it is one of the closest novels of its genre to perfection, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to all those interested in the Scottish Wars of Independence as well as historical fiction.

Glen Craney

Personal site

Glen Craney is an American author, novelist, journalist and lawyer with degrees from Hanover College, Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He has taken to writing novels with more of a historical penchant, such as The Virgin of the Wind Rose and The Fire and the Light.

More of the Glen Craney book reviews:
The Virgin of the Wind Rose
The Yanks are Starving

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