Summary and book reviews of Fair Helen by Andrew Greig

Fair Helen

by Andrew Greig

Fair Helen by Andrew Greig X
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2015, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2016, 260 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Elderly narrator Harry Langton looks back on the adventures and friends of his youth, transporting the reader to the Scottish Borderlands at the end of the 16th century...

The much younger Langton returns to his birthplace to aid an old friend, the brash Adam Fleming, who has fallen for legendary beauty Helen of Annandale. He has also, it seems, fallen foul of a rival for her hand, Robert Bell, a man as violent as he is influential. Fleming confesses to Langton that he fears for his life.

In a land where minor lairds vie for power and blood feuds are settled by the sword, Fleming faces a battle to win Helen's hand. By virtue of being the lovers' confidant, Langton is thrust into the middle of this dangerous triangle, and discovers Helen is not so chaste as she is fair. But Langton has his own secrets to keep - and other powers to serve. Someone has noticed Langton's connections to the major players in the Border disputes, and has recruited him in their bid to control the hierarchy of the Border families - someone who would use the lovers as pawns in a game of war.

Packed with swordplay, intricate politics, and star-crossed lovers whose actions could change the course of history, Fair Helen is a sumptuous, rousing adventure novel that brings to life one of English poetry's most intriguing heroines.

Fair Helen of Kirkconnel Lea

O gin I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
O that I were where Helen lies,
On fair Kirkconnel Lea.

Curst be the mind that thought the thought,
Curst be the hand that fired the shot,
When in my airms burd Helen dropt,
Wha died for sake of me.

I lighted down, my sword did draw,
I hacked him in pieces sma,
I hacked him in pieces sma,
For her that died for me.

O Helen fair, beyond compare!
I'll make a garland of thy hair,
To bind my heart for evermair,
Until the day I die.

O gin I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
And I am weary of the skies
Of fair Kirkconnel Lea.

"Ane doolie sessoun . . ."

These winter morns are bitter cold and the draughts unstoppable under the roof of Hawthornden. My breath puffs clouds as I scrape clear the garret window, ice slivers melt under yellowed fingernails.

Yet today I am snug as a bug on a dug. I have donned shirts, a shift, my disreputable jerkin, two ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I quickly fell under the author's spell, and the magic of Greig's writing pulled me into the time and place completely. His lush prose vividly sets the scene, not only depicting the atmosphere of the Borderlands but expertly conveying the history of the time period without making it feel like a historical treatise. Readers should be aware that in spite of its romantic foundation, Fair Helen isn't a romance. The book will appeal most to historical fiction fans who delight in well-written narrative that centers on historical context and who are less concerned about books with a lot of action or acts of love.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (797 words).

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Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
A triumph of suspense ... what sets Fair Helen above the usual run of historical novels, aside from Greig's extraordinarily deft use of language, is its moral depth, its acute sense of the intricacies of the Border feuds.

The Literary Review (UK)
One of the best historical novels of recent years, Greig dusts off the past and presents it with tremendous skill.

The Scotsman (UK)
Exciting and moving, intelligent and imaginative ... Demands to be read once at the gallop, and then a second time slowly, savoring the details and relishing its intelligence.

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Beyond the Book

Reiving

In the 14th century, the land on either side of the border between England and Scotland became known as the "Border Country" or "The Borders." This area, where Fair Helen is set, was frequently used as a thoroughfare by English and Scottish armies, and consequently the residents were constantly impoverished as the militias sought to supply themselves from local crops and livestock. The area also suffered from a lack of law and order; defense of property came only with the help from family and so the bonds of the clans were reinforced. Amidst this lawlessness and poverty a new occupation was born: that of reiver. Almost all the male characters in Fair Helen are reivers.

Reiving refers to the plundering or raiding of livestock, although ...

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