Jamie MacGillivray: The Renegade's Journey" by John Sayles is an historical fiction novel of cinematic quality. A voluminous read of 700 pages, it covers a span of 13 years from the Battle of Culloden in 1746 to the French and Indian War which culminated in the Battle of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, with the French losing their foothold in Canada. Unlike the screenwriting of author Sayles, with a set time frame to create and block a story, he dons his novelist's hat providing a captivating story of one, Jamie MacGillivray, along with a parallel tale of Jenny Ferguson, who both were transported to the New World for their involvement in the Jacobite Rebellion.
Jamie MacGillivray, a Scottish Highlander, was part of the Jacobite Rebellion, fighting alongside the French in a failed attempt to unseat King George II. Injured, he hid under a pile of dead rebels. Jenny Ferguson, a crofter's daughter, found him and ministered to him in her father's cottage. Jamie, expecting to die, gave Jenny his mother's wedding ring. Perhaps the gold band would prove helpful in the future. When Jamie and Jenny were discovered hiding from the British, they were imprisoned. Jamie was sent to the Marshalsea Prison with the expectation of being hanged. Defying death, he was sent to the colonies as an indentured servant for the remainder of his natural life. Georgia plantation owner, Jock Crozier's cruelty to Jamie resulted in his escape, only to be caught by Indians of the Lenape Nation. The Lenape gave Jamie beatings and women's work. With the ever present thought of escape, Jamie was still able to find "his place" especially after saving some young children from capture by a rival tribe.
Jenny, a poor servant girl, by having given shelter to a wounded Jamie, was branded a rebel and then transported, in chains, ending up in Martinique. She was purchased by a French artillery officer, St. Cyr. Since her life would depend upon him, it was essential to learn French. His seductive way of teaching would lead Jenny to become his reluctant mistress, however, not until she was able to bargain with him for two pairs of shoes. She could be seen on his arm, a white woman in Creole Society.
Jamie and Jenny both voice their difficult, different, and unique journeys as they must pivot, regroup and reinvent themselves through time; Jamie as a Lenape warrior named Long Knife, Jenny as a mistress, cook and sister of mercy.
Jamie's renegade journey is rich in Scottish dialect as well as French dialogue. This added to my enjoyment of the novel. Meticulous research provided a detailed history of the clashes between the English and French between the years of 1746-1759. The plight of the Highland rebels in Scotland and the treatment of Native Americans in the New World by colonizers seemed authentic. Indentured servants and Native Americans were robbed of their identities in the quest to expand the British sphere of influence in the New World in the 18th Century. An excellent read that begs a sequel.
Thank you Melville House Publishing and Net Galley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I am a huge John Sayles fan and this book looks to be right up my alley as I’m intrigued by the time and place in which he’s set this story. However, the publisher’s ebook ARC provided by Netgalley was such a formatting trainwreck that I did not have the patience to overcome it and gave up trying. I bought the book instead.
So the blurb of this book said if you like Diana Gabaldon, Philippa Gregory, George R.R. Martin, then you will like this book. I am fans of all of those so I grabbed an ARC. I will say that this book is similar to Outlander but remove all of the romance. I like historical books, but I also like romance with my historical. So this book is about Jamie MacGillivray, as the title so accurately states. He is Scottish and this takes place after Culloden. Jamie is sent to the colonies as a slave with other Scots as well. Now we get into the French Indian War. Jamie escapes the British only to be captured by Indians and now he is thrown into another war. This book is descriptive and quite gruesome, which is where it is like A Game of Thrones. There is a lot of history in this book and many characters. There is also a lot of French which I did not enjoy because I do not know French and I did not want to get out a translator every time conversations were happening. So that was annoying. It was difficult enough trying to figure out the Scots speaking English. Overall I liked it. I believe the author said this will be a series so we will see how Jamie's adventure will continue.
-"...and the French become distracted-"
"They're difficult enough when you've got their full attention."
-"Excellent manners, the English, when they're not invading your homeland."
John Sayles gives us a modern take on the 18th/19th century adventure novel: think Dumas or Defoe with a 21st century sensibility. As history, Sayles draws a clear line of English (and, to a lesser degree, French) empiric brutality from Scotland in the 1740's to the new American islands and colonies during the Seven Years War. Along the way he shows (never tells) the impact of English - French competition on Enslaved Africans, Native American populations, European refugees (Acadians, Quakers, Germans, Huguenots, Scots-Irish), and "mainstream" colonists. Our hero finds himself comparing Native tribal conflicts to European wars of royal succession: both are mind-numbingly complicated and seemingly trivial.
But this is an adventure story; the history provides a backdrop and a sense of the stakes our characters are playing for, but it never becomes THE story. No, the story is a breakneck tour of the Atlantic world in the mid 18th century: privateers, Highland rogues, London prisons and corruption, Parisien Jacobin society, French-creole society in Martinique, Acadians in Hallifax, southern enslavers, shipboard deprivation, native Americans, stupid English armies marching lockstep to destruction in the Appalachian wilderness, German colonial farmers, French convents, and a genuine Scottish bard who ends up singing in Shawnee. It's great.
The plot: lots of daring, death-defying escapes, battles large and small, gallows, heroic last stands, torture, drawing & quartering, the near-miraculous capture of Quebec, and a whole bunch of other similar stuff. The story never drags. The characters are almost all believable human beings, mostly just trying to navigate a perilous world as best they can.
Of course John Sayles writes cinematically; he probably can't help it. The story is largely told in dialogue, and there is plenty of dialect, but never enough to slow down one's reading. The scenes are essentially blocked out. There are no deep internal monologues or authorial social commentary - it's Dumas or Stevenson,
not Dickens or Trollope.
It's gritty and immersive, and if that's what you're looking for in historical fiction, you'll enjoy it. I found the present tense jarring. I know the author is a filmmaker and it felt like reading a screenplay in a slightly distracting way. The prose was full of wonderful language, but it lacked a deep POV that I would have appreciated more, to draw more emotion out of the story. I also don't love things written in dialect, which is just personal preference,
This book is definitely a big boy, clocking it at over 700 pages, don't be me, don't get so sucked into the book that you feel compelled to complete it all in one sitting, your sleep schedule will not appreciate it. However this book is also broken down into smaller sections, almost smaller books within the book which make for a great place to pause and take a break if needed.
Not that you'll need to, John Sayles has written a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing story with Jamie MacGillivray, it's full of action, intrigue and suspense, there's some great cameos sure to delight anyone who loves history but this book is a great read for anyone
Sayles background in screenwriting is apparent through reading this book- It reads like a sweeping movie! It's structured on the page like scenes. The language is vivid and the world is masterfully painted onto the pages. The research into the period is apparent. Sayles does an exceptionally good job at balancing his created narrative with historic implications and accuracy, something which I think is particularly important and frequently difficult to accomplish.
If you are looking for an action-packed historical fiction novel, this is the book for you! The characters are entertaining and distinct. Their respective arcs make sense and feel honest. It is full of action and intrigue. Due to it's dialogue-heavy nature, it doesn't fall into the info-dumping trap that many books in this genre do. The plot keeps you on your toes, and never stops moving. For history buffs, the cameos of famous figures are sure to be a treat!
This book is quite an undertaking. It is very long and is split into multiple books internally. It makes me wonder if maybe it would be less daunting to pick up if it were separate books? This is an action book, and it accomplishes just that; however, sometimes I wish it contained more nuance with respect to the characters.