Reviewed by David Maclaine
Kenneth is the story of one of the most remarkable and enduring events of the Viking Age. In the tumult of Norse and Danish assaults in the ninth century, kingdoms were overthrown, and an empire broke into fragments. But in the north of Britain a remarkable figure bucked that trend. The Kenneth of Nigel Tranter's novel is Kenneth MacAlpin, founder of a dynasty that would rule for more than 800 years. As the tale begins, its title character is only a little-heeded grandson of the king of Dalriada, a realm of former Irish immigrants still clinging to a patch of coast between the Britons of Strathclyde and the much larger Pictish Kingdom of Alba, whose leaders are already closely related by intermarriage with Kenneth's family. Kenneth, his grandfather Eochaidh and King Angus of Alba are returning from a raid, hard-pressed by Saxon enemies. They win a victory after some crucial decisions by the young prince and a cross-shaped cloud in the sky that convinces them of Saint Andrew's assistance. A search for relics of that saint follows, another of the author's trademark outings into a lovely countryside of a young man and an appealing young woman, and then a series of missions by Kenneth in which he attempts to strike back at the Northmen afflicting their shore and to unite the Celtic kingdoms against the invaders.
Readers who take up the novel may be aware that by its end Kenneth, now known as the Norse-Slayer, will unite two realms in a new kingdom. Before then, he must fight more than a few battles, which the author lays out with care and skill, and meet an assortment of interesting characters. As is usual in a Tranter novel, the greatest descriptive powers are deployed in a detailed account of the land: the hills and shores of every journey and, in this case, especially the islands and inlets not only of the Picts and Scots, but also of Northern Ireland, Cumbria and Wales. Along the way Kenneth provides a keen and loving view of the birth pangs that gave us Scotland. (1990, 352 pages)More about Kenneth at Amazon.com