"Son of a Jacobite" by T.J. Lovat charts the life of Thomas Lovat, who was born in April 1746 on the same day his father, Edward, was killed in action. Fighting the final battle of the Jacobite rising at Culloden, Edward, along with many of his clansman, lost his life to the Government forces that day. The devastation of Culloden and the Highland Clearances that followed had a profound effect on Thomas. He was to grow up knowing only his mother and a series of father figures, none of whom was a match to the man he would never know and who came to be referred to as a legend in Thomas's lifetime.
Written mostly in the style of a novel and often from Thomas's perspective, we learn about the lives of Thomas and his family as they regroup after the losses at Culloden and as he grows from child to boy to adult. Anger and a lack of direction in Thomas's early life leaves him prone to rashness and often on the back foot. When an opportunity arises for him to travel to the Middle East, Thomas sees in it the chance to broaden his horizons and to find himself. Whilst there he travels widely with the support of his mentor Archibald who has joined the diplomatic service. He sees safe passage, but also faces threats on his life, in one case having to kill or be killed by bandits while on the road. His success and survival against such odds lead him to the realisation that he is indeed his father's son. He also develops a keen sense of justice and learns that diplomacy is often the key to defusing conflict.
Thomas meets and marries a Persian woman. She is a little older, and is well read and devout. She practices Shi'ite Islam and teaches Thomas much about her beliefs and values. He loves her deeply and they bear a child but an unforeseen event on their journey back to England sees Thomas return alone. He spends time taking stock of his life and does some teaching, but he eventually decides to join the Army. His obvious ability brings him to the attention of more senior officers and he is soon sent to the Americas in the prelude to the War of Independence. Whilst he is a successful soldier and his leadership skills make him popular among his men, much of military life feels at odds with both his heritage and his moral code. Thomas struggles to believe in what he is fighting for and is critical of the need to wage this war at all.
"Son of a Jacobite" is clearly well researched and lovingly put together. It is one man's homage to his family history and there are moments in the book where the narrative is set aside for the odd history lesson to ground the reader in place and time. Beyond that it is a beautifully written story of one man's life and loves, lived in the most interesting and challenging of times.