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The Scottish Boy by Alex de Campi

Blurb: 1333. Edward III is at war with Scotland. 19-year-old West Country knight Sir Harry de Lyon yearns to prove himself in the war, and so jumps at the chance when a powerful English baron, William Montagu, invites him on a secret mission with a dozen elite knights. They ride north, to a crumbling Scottish keep, capturing the feral, half-starved boy within and putting the other inhabitants to the sword. And nobody knows, or nobody is saying, why the flower of English knighthood snuck over the border to capture a savage, dirty teenage boy. Montagu gives the boy to Harry as his squire, with only two rules: don't let him escape, and convert him to the English cause. The price of failure? Forfeiting his small, heavily indebted Devon estate to the Baron.

At first, it's hopeless. The Scottish boy is surly, violent, hoards sharp objects, and eats anything that isn't nailed down. Then Harry begins to notice things: that, as well as Gaelic, the boy speaks flawless French, with an accent much different from Harry's Norman one. That he can read the language – Latin, too. That he isn't small so much as desperately under-fed. That when Harry finally convinces the boy – Iain mac Maíl Coluim – to cut his filthy curtain of hair, the face revealed is the most beautiful thing Hary has ever seen.

With Iain as his squire, Harry wins tournament after tournament and becomes a favourite of the King. But underneath the pageantry smoulders twin secrets: Harry and Iain's growing passion for each other, and Iain's mysterious heritage. As England hurtles towards war once again, these secrets will destroy everything Harry holds dear.

Review: Four words: Gay Outlander, Season 2 (minus the whole time travel aspect).

When I received The Scottish Boy by Alex de Campi in the mail I was captivated by the cover, daunted by the size of the book, and a little concerned that the romance would be overwhelmed by the historical aspects of the book. I've never been good at remembering names, dates, and details and I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the deluge of information being handed to me. That said, I haven't the faintest idea how much of this book is fact, if any really, and how much is fiction, maybe all of it. But it was so damn good that I don't even care.

The Scottish Boy is a violent and terrifying read at times. People are stabbed, hung, burned, beheaded, and bitten from day one. After all, it's 1333 and a war is raging all around them. But in between bouts of violence the book is moving and emotional, romantic and heart-breaking. Our protagonist Harry is only nineteen years old, a young man taught to follow orders no matter how wrong they might be, and has already been thrust into horrific situations far beyond his years. It was difficult to like him on occasion, but it was never difficult to empathize with him.

And poor Iain. A boy who was never supposed to live, forced to withness the deaths of those he loves, and then ripped from his home to be held captive by a man only a few years old than himself. I raged on Iain's behalf on a number of times, I rooted for his escape, and I found myself beyond emotional as his struggles increased.

Harry's kindness warred constantly with Iain's anger, making their interactions explosive and unpredictable. Their connection developed realistically over time, rather than a love at first sight situation, and I fell for them as they fell for each other. The books progresses from enemies to lovers to us against them which are two of my favorite tropes, so I enjoyed myself all the way through.

The secondary characters were winners all around (even the really, really shitty ones that I wanted to kill with my own bare hands). We had the domestic staff of Sir Harry who were always around to humanize our heroes and throw a little softness into a book filled with hard people and hard situations and the evil, conniving men running Harry's life from behind the scenes.

You'll be happy to know that the biggest complaint I read surrounding this book was the happy ending. Some thought it was too unrealistic for 1333 that two men, in the midst of war, in their situations, would find happiness. But, this is a romance novel, and we know the rules. So rest assured that, though it doesn't come easy, you'll find an HEA at the end of this story.

Out now.


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