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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Heartbreaker by Elisabeth McNeill

Title: The Heartbreaker: A Novel of Bonnie Prince Charlie
Author: Elisabeth McNeill
ISBN: 978-0-7278-6837-4
Publisher:  Severn House
Release Date: March 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 192
How I read it: from my own personal library
Rating: 3 Crowns

SYNOPSIS (from dust jacket):  "Charles Edward Stewart, known in history as Bonnie Prince Charlie, landed in Scotland in 1746 to raise a rebellion against the English king and try to win back the British throne for his family but his attempt ended in disaster at Culloden.  He only evaded capture by the English redcoats because a young woman called Flora Macdonald guided him across Skye to where he was able to board a French ship and escape.  They never met again but the twelve days they spent together determined the course of their lives.  In this dramatic retelling, Elisabeth McNeill reveals the man behind the myth and wonderfully recreates life in the eighteenth century as she completes their story."

My Thoughts:  I must have missed something when I read that synopsis before picking up this book to review it for Scotland week because I thought it would focus on his journey out of Scotland with the aide of Flora MacDonald.  Instead this novel focuses on what happened in the lives of Flora Macdonald and Bonnie Prince Charlie after he made his escape from Scotland (or rather abandoned the Highlanders to their gruesome fate on Culloden field).  In addition to part of the story taking place in Scotland there were also parts set in England, France, Italy and America which I was totally not expecting. It is clear from the start that Prince Charles is not a good man.  He takes everything including the risks his followers take for his cause for granted and he is vain, spoiled, and selfish.  He barely acknowledges the debt he owes Flora Macdonald for her courage in helping him escape capture by the English Army.  Without her, he would have been imprisoned and possible killed by the English government.  Without him, she would never have gained fame as the Prince's savior-which allowed her to gain enough funds and social class to marry her beloved husband Allan.

McNeill tells of Charles' failed relationships and refusal to give up his dreams of regaining the English throne and of Flora's hard life because of the repeated ill-advised choices of her husband.  I just found this book very hard to get into and I think it was because it does a lot of telling what is going on instead of showing.  There isn't really a whole lot of action to be had with any of the characters.  Although it was interesting to find out what happened to these characters after the disastrous turn at Culloden, I think the book would have been much stronger if it had covered Charles' rebellion and his flight with Flora as well. The author only mentions these events briefly in the prologue.

Even though the book was "a novel of Bonnie Prince Charlie" he was such a thoroughly unlikable person that I found myself not caring what happened to him.  Strangely, the author relates his full title almost every time he is mentioned which proved to be a bit distracting. To me it felt like the story belonged to the three ill-treated women who surrounded him for the latter half of his life: his mistress Clementine Walkinshaw, his daughter Charlotte, and his wife Louise.  The glimpse into 18th century society was nice and this would be good for someone looking for a quick read but it would probably not be my first recommendation for someone looking for a book on what happened to the main players after Culloden though.

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Mystica said...

Either way it sounds a good read.

Jenny Girl said...

Excellent review. I know for me, my review may have been negative since the Bonnie Prince is quite the sleeze. At least the woman benefited.