Scott has to be the most underrated author in the British canon. He is no tartan and shortbread author, but one of the most innovative and influential novelists ever. People forget that among his contemporary European audience he was probably more popular than Jane Austen, lauded by most from Byron to Goethe, and even Austen begrudgingly recognised Scott's talent. True, his psychology may not be as incisive, but his stories are far more exciting and politically far deeper, and just as affecting.
Whereas Austen's novels are subtle and beautiful, Scott's are epic and sublime. Waverely was the first historical novel in history, as we understand the genre today, and a seminal work that laid the groundwork for most historcal novelists to this day. It has everything: fictional characters arise out of historical possibliity to play their role in significant historical narratives; the action depicts a transitional period and demonsrates the dynamic movement of history and social change; and of course, there is much epic romance and swashbuckling.
Scott shines most in his portrait of the Scottish characters, who are usually far more colourful and exotic than his staple English protagonist. He goes a long way to producing the epic portrayal of an entire historical society over the course of the Waverley novels, and in this the first novel the eponymous character sojourns with the Mac-Ivor clan and eventually fights alongside them at Prestonpans. Along the way the reader is privy to the effects of the transition from feudal to bourgeois society.
Scott's detail is wonderfully evocative and really lends the narrative the spirit of the times. This is a great read, and in spite of the occasional anachronism, the history is thoroughly researched. Scott had the skill and knowledge to paint the broad strokes and pay attention to fine detail in his portrait of mid-18th Century Scotland. A great novel that anyone can enjoy.