The history of Scotland has been told and retold many times, in many different ways, by many different authors. The story of the kings and queens of Scotland is an important subset of our nation's history, and has also appeared in print on a numerous occasions. Anyone approaching "The Kings & Queens of Scotland" by Timothy Venning in their local bookshop will therefore be asking themselves what this book adds to what has gone before, and whether it is worth buying and reading.
What you find between the covers is a book that has clearly been painstakingly researched, and which would make an ideal introduction to the subject for anyone who's not already read several other books on Scotland's kings and queens. The book carries the story as far as 1707, the year of the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England. This seems a sensible end point, allowing the Union of the Crowns of the two countries under James VI/I in 1603 to be covered in detail, as well as its aftermath.
In many ways it was the book's opening chapter that fascinated us the most. This covers the constituent kingdoms that came together to form Scotland. While historians covering Scottish history from the advent of clear written records necessarily have to follow generally similar paths, those looking back further find themselves having to fall back on very limited original source material, much of which is of questionable historical accuracy. The result is that the scope for interpretation and interpolation is considerably greater. "The Constituent Kingdoms" looks in turn at the Kings of the Picts, the Kings of Dal Riada and the Kings of Strathclyde, and Timothy Venning's approach to the sometimes controversial question of how these three kingdoms became just one is a satisfyingly common sense one.
The book is not just well researched, it is also well written and argued, though at times the accessibility of the writing is not helped by the considerable length of many of the paragraphs, which tends to make the text harder to follow. But if you don't allow this to put you off, you'll find yourself heading home from the bookshop with a book that tells a fascinating and at times very complex story very well indeed.