Written by William Meikle
Published by Black Death Books
It’s 1745 and Prince Charles Stuart has begun his ill-fated campaign for the throne, leading thousands of Scots to their death on Culloden Field at the hands of the Duke of Cumberland’s army. Sort of. In this third installment of Watchers, William Meikle’s tale of alternate history, the Boy-King is indeed making his bid for the throne . . . but his army is made up of undead blood-drinkers called Others.
I do not recommend reading this tale on its own, as I did, since it depends on much of the back story from the previous installments to avoid confusion. A recap of the preceding events is included, which is somewhat helpful, but I found myself turning back to it at several points to understand current events, which removes the reader from the story. Otherwise, the story itself is very gripping. And once you’ve gotten your bearings on what has gone before and where everyone is now, you can well and truly dig into the tale.
Our principle characters are Martin, Thane of Milecastle, and Sean Grant, Martin’s closest friend and an officer of the Watch. At this point in the story Martin and the rest of the army have just won a victory at Derby, due somewhat to the efforts of Sean and a man named Duncan Campbell. Campbell’s daughter Mary is carrying the Boy-King’s child and has been kidnapped in order to bring about a ceremony to turn both her and the infant she carries, providing the Prince with his bride and heir. Sean and Duncan manage to disrupt the ceremony, though Duncan’s life is lost, and Sean burns Edinburgh Castle down around Baphomet (the blood-drinkers’ god). With this defeat of their god, the blood-drinkers army flees from Derby. And this is where our current installment begins. I know it sounds confusing, but if you’ve read the first two, I’m sure it all comes together.
The characters themselves, all plagued by their own demons, are very well written. Martin, near death, was saved by the Woodsmen, a race like the Picts, seemingly akin to faeries or pixies in their magic. However, part of the treatment involves fusing his spirit with that of a wolf, making him no longer, in the language of Meikle’s world, “man-and-only-man”. Sean too is no longer man-and-only-man. Having been bitten by an Other, he too is saved by the Woodsmen and a blood transfusion, leaving him somewhat in control of the demon within.
Despite their otherwordly powers, both Sean and Martin are very down to earth and relatable characters temperament-wise. They are good, honorable men who fight for what they believe in and the people they love. It’s the relationship between them, and with secondary characters equally as rich and real, that fuels the story throughout its dark and fantastical journey.
If you know any history, then you know how this eventually turns out. But though the title of the book focuses on Culloden, that is not all there is to it. There is much depth and breadth to this story, enough to make you forget that you basically know what’s going to happen. Because it is only very basic knowledge. There is much still for Meikle to play with. And that he does. Very well.
Horror fans will delight at the dark surroundings as well as some of the new twists on old favorites, not to mention Meikle’s ingenious ideas for weapons used in a mass scale war against vampires. Fans of historical fiction, too, will enjoy this interesting new take on well known events and people. And anyone who’s fond of a good story and a good piece of writing will enjoy Meikle’s clever conceits, interesting and earthy characters, and well turned prose.
It started off bumpy; not being familiar with the characters’ early trials, I wondered if I’d be able to follow. But the story quickly smoothed out as I got to know the characters and their environment and became embroiled in their endeavors. At the end I was left feeling satisfied and also with an urge to pick up the first two installments, Watchers: The Coming of the King and Watchers: The Battle for the Throne, in order to make the complete journey with these rich characters from beginning to end.
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