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Literature / The Candlemass Road

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The Candlemass Road is a Historical Fiction novel by George Macdonald Fraser. Set on the Scotch-English border described in his nonfiction book The Steel Bonnets, The Candlemass Road is about young lady Margaret Dacre, who has just inherited an estate on the border. Her father, Lord Ralph Dacre, known throughout the borderlands and beyond as "The Red Bull" kept his land safe for decades, and no reiver dared despoil Dacre tenants. Now that he is dead, his troopers dispersed to other lords, and there is no one left to hold the manor but a few servants and an aging priest. The Nixons, a famous reiver clan, have come to Geordie Bell to demand the black rent (as protection money is called on the border). Bell calls upon Lady Dacre for help and protection, and she has no one to hold away the reivers but Archie Wait-About-Him, an outlaw and broken man held by her bailiff for stealing bread.

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This novel contains examples of:

  • Badass Boast: "I am Dacre, shift me an ye can."
  • Badass Preacher: Father Guevara used to be one, given the adventures he had in the Americas and Africa, to say nothing of the Borders themselves. The trope is Deconstructed in that all the violence he's seen and survived took a heavy toll on his faith, and by the time of the story he very much desires peace and quiet.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Lady Dacre sees all the Borderers as this when she arrives, but by the end is becoming acclimated to the 'custom of the country'
  • Bandit Clan: The Reivers are one of the defining examples of this trope.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: How the the rest of the world see the society of the Borderers. Besides how freely Scots and English mingle among them despite the animosity of their respective kingdoms, people who spend most of the year trying to kill each other can meet in civility and actual friendship at market days and formal events, then go back to trying to kill each other when the festivities are over. For their part, the Borderers take pride in the uniqueness of their culture.
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  • Framing Device: The novel is presented as the memoir of Frey Luis Guevara, an elderly priest who witnessed the events.
  • Good Shepherd: Though Father Guevara's faith was waning during the events of the story and he's given up the priesthood by the time he sets the tale to print, he nevertheless did his best to fulfill his duties to his parishioners and stand by them in their time of need, at significant personal risk.
  • The Heretic: Father Guevara is a Roman Catholic priest in Elizabethan England. Technically his very presence in the country is illegal, but the Protestant Lord Dacre liked keeping him around to tend to Dacre's own recusant subjects, and Lady Dacre keeps him in service. Fraser notes that this wasn't actually uncommon on the Borders, where enforcement of religious orthodoxy wasn't high on anyone's list of priorities.
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  • Outlaw Town: Liddesdale is run by and for the Elliots, one of the most powerful reiver clans. Riccarton is the seat of the Nixons, and several other reiver clans have their own towns as well.
  • Red Baron: Lord Dacre, known as the Red Bull for his family emblem. Also reiver chiefs like Ill Will Nixon.
  • Ronin: The 'broken men' of the Borders could be understood as a Western equivalent. They're not held in ill regard because they're thieves and cutthroats (those are respected professions on the Borders) but because they're not in the service of any 'legitimate' Bandit Clan or liege lord.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Lady Dacre, though she's ready enough to show the steel immediately on arriving at the Borders.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Lady Dacre. Her personality particularly shocks people who expected her to be much more delicate for having been raised at the royal court.
  • Wretched Hive: The Disputed lands are a lawless place inhabited by reivers and killers
  • Worthy Opponent:When the Red Bull is killed, Reivers and March Wardens alike come to his funeral out of respect.
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