"Lord James" by Catherine Hermary-Vieille is a historical novel based closely on the life of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. The relationship between Bothwell and Mary Queen of Scots, culminating in an ill-judged marriage that brought about the downfall of both, is one of the great human tragedies of Scottish history, and this excellent read vividly leads you through the story from the perspective of Bothwell himself.
Catherine Hermary-Vieille has stayed faithful to the history, but given it a treatment that truly brings the story to life. History can give you an understanding of the background and the facts, and can allow discussion of causes and motivations, but at the end of the day, even the very best histories still leaves you as an outsider looking in on the subjects being discussed. Retelling the story as historical fiction has allowed the author to transport her readers into the heart of the unfolding drama as insiders, able to truly understand the story and its human causes and consequences. Using the format of a novel has allowed the author to go well beyond the historical record, but she had done so convincingly and effectively.
Anyone with any knowledge of Scottish history knows before opening the book that it is not going to end well for the main characters. And even if you don't know the story, the book opens with Bothwell in steep physical decline and on the verge of insanity in a Danish dungeon: and you know immediately that the closing words of the book are not going to be "and they lived happily ever after". Throughout the book Bothwell is revisited in his prison at Dragsholm, and the story of how he came to be there emerges through what might in a film be represented as extended flashbacks.
The effect is to draw you into the narrative as you learn about Bothwell's early life in Scotland and France; his increasing engagement with Scottish politics; and his unfailing ability to allow a sense of honour and his deep loyalty to the interests of Scotland to develop an ever larger and more powerful circle of enemies. This was an era in which the Scottish nobility was all too ready to trade principles for hard cash, especially English cash: and by backing the French cause as a Protestant, Bothwell was viewed by many as a troublesome outsider. Add in the converging story of Mary Queen of Scots' life in France and later in Scotland and the scene is set for a tragic story and a thoroughly enjoyable novel.