The steel bonnets (book review)

Did you know that the border between England and Scotland in the 16th century was so lawless that at least one Elizabethan official seriously proposed rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall?

The steel bonnets is an absolutely engrossing and fascinating look at the border reivers of Scotland and England by an author better known for his hilarious but well-researched Flashman novels.

Fraser is a very engaging writer, and does a great job with this history. Much of the wit and humor of the Flashman series is evident here, as well as his good-natured despair about human nature and the prevalence of injustice. (The border reivers are exposed as base predators, and their treatment by the authorities was basically genocidal at the end of the period covered. The Hungarian proverb that “big thieves hang little thieves” seems to be  illustrated well.)

It did get a bit overwhelming at times, with descriptions of the complex system of shifting feuds and alliances that characterized the period. But as a potential RPG setting, the possibilities are immense.  The party could easily start out staging or revenging small raids, and work their up to larger and larger expeditions into enemy territory.  They could try to apprehend outlaws or spies.  They could defend or besiege a “tower house,” or engage in diplomacy between clans or even foreign powers.  Of course this is pretty easy to apply to fantasy or sci-fi contexts.  Any frontier area might be home to border reivers.  They could be humans, demi-humans, or humanoids ekeing out an existence between hostile kingdoms, or perhaps enclaves of half-orcs, half-elves, or other outcasts.  I can readily imagine outlaw halflings living on the border between a peaceful “Shire” and weak human kingdom…  In a sci-fi setting like Gamma World or Mutant Future, the entire region might be home to warring clans with tangled alliances, blood ties, and feuds.

Highly recommended.

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Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 12:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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