Book: The Reavers by George MacDonald Fraser

Hilariously anachronistic mashup of genres set on the Scottish border in the late sixteenth century

February 25, 2012

George MacDonald Fraser

The Reavers

Anchor, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-38805-6

268 pages


George MacDonald Fraser died in 2008. So you can imagine my surprise when I was browsing in a local bookstore a few weeks ago and I came across a new book he had written. (Surprise and delight, in fact, since he was one of my favorite writers.) The Reavers was published in 2009 and the copyright notice says that the copyright is held by Mr Fraser's estate. Apart from a slightly abrupt ending, the book seems quite finished so I suppose it must have been at least nearly complete when he died. And the ending may have another explanation.

The book is set in the area around the Anglo-Scottish border where Mr Fraser has previously set a book of historical fiction (The Candlemass Road) and about which he has written a book of serious history (The Steel Bonnets). This book is set a bit before the turn of the seventeenth century and that area was pretty lawless back then.

As the book begins, young, rich, fashionable Lady Godiva Dacre and her school chum Mistress Kylie are in a carriage that's stuck in the mud on a Dark and Stormy Night on the way to visit yet another estate and castle that Lady Godiva has recently inherited. Their coachmen are chased off and the women are about to be set upon by highwaymen. They'll be rescued of course. But their rescuer turns out to be another highwayman, though much better looking. And he turns out to be something else besides. And there's another disreputable character who will shortly be breaking into Lady Godiva's new castle. And he's also not who he seems. And then there's a nefarious plot on the part of the Spanish, as well.

The book is a hilarious mashup (though I suspect that Mr Fraser wouldn't have liked that new-fangled word) of Shakespearian story, romance, swashbuckler, detective story, spy novel, and a few other things besides. In style, the book is similar to Mr Fraser's novel The Pyrates. All of the possible coincidences, reversals, movie-plot conventions, and deliberate anachronisms are turned up to eleven here.

Take this for example (Stenhousemuir is a modern Scottish football club):

    "Someone's got to impersonate the impostor, haven't they?

    Well," Archie pointed out, "certes it must be someone wi' a

    Scotch accent and all the patter, able to converse at need on

    haggis prices and Stenhousemuir's promotion prospects —"

    (p. 163)

Given how much fun Mr Fraser has in following, exaggerating, and flouting conventions in the book, the somewhat abrupt ending may just be Mr Fraser's deliberate twist.

The book is a hilarious romp. Mr Fraser went out with style.