While there are several striking portraits of secondary persons such as old Lord Durrisdeer, Alison Graeme, and the somewhat boastful Colonel Francis Burke, the central emphasis is on the brothers Durie. Because the story is told from Henry's standpoint, the reader's sympathy is probably going to attach to this unhappy man; however, the sheer bravado and energy of James is bound to appeal to many, as it does, grudgingly, to the old family benefactor, Ephraim Mackellar.
Owing to the old Lord's desire to avoid losing his estate in "the troubles," and to the result of the coin toss, James is the brother who has the choice of actions: Stay and tend to the estate or go off with the Jacobites to fight for the Stuart cause. James chooses to leave, while Henry remains to take on the family responsibility. The animosity between the brothers (mostly on James's side) is intensified by the marriage of Henry and Alison, and perhaps by Henry's recognition that his irresponsible brother is their father's favorite.
Throughout the course of the novel, the personality of the primary narrator, Mackellar, is revealed in subtle and meaningful ways. For example, while he can condemn the willful ways of James, he also cannot fully abandon his respect for this brother's daring and boldness. Thereby, the reader gains a helpful perspective on the attitudes of the sensible, loyal, and respectful people who made up much of the population of Scotland in the mid-1700s....
(The entire section is 463 words.)