📚For Those Who ‘love a good historical #mystery’ Noelle reviews Dark Hunter by F.J. Watson, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT.📚

Today’s team review is from Noelle.

She blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Noelle has been reading Dark Hunter by F. J. Watson

Historical Mystery

I do love a good historical mystery, and Fiona Watson has written an atmospheric and compelling one, set in the city of Berwick-upon-Tweed in the early 14th century.

In the year 1317, a young and pious squire named Benedict Russell is sent to the English-held garrison of Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town sitting on the border between Scotland and England. The town’s strategic position and relative wealth had previously resulted in a succession of raids, sieges and takeovers during centuries of war between these two countries. Three years earlier to Benedict’s arrival, the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, had won a massive victory at the battle of Bannockburn and were raiding over the border. Edward II decided to send reinforcements to Berwick in case of an attack.

Benedict is learned – he can read and write – and is belittled by his fellow squires, who are more trained in the art of swordplay and warfare. He discovers through keen observation and a little diversion that the knight supplying food to the garrison is diverting money into his own accounts. Recognition of his ability gets him the task of discovering who murdered a beautiful young girl, one whom Benedict lusted after, and left her mutilated body outside the city’s walls. Benedict must decide if the murder was a crime of passion or one which involves a traitor or spy for the Scots.

The pace of discovery as Benedict works through various clues is deliberate, as would be for a sleuth of that time, but introduces the reader to the realities of life in the 14th century: the poverty and squalor set against the wealth of the ruling class, the hierarchy amongst the knights and their treatment of servants, and women as chattel to be used as pawns. The author draws on her knowledge of conditions of daily life, religious practices, practices of medieval punishment, food, drink, clothes, weapons, and social distinctions to put the reader firmly inside a city awaiting a siege, with all of the tension exacerbated by the murder.

This is also a coming-of-age story as Benedict slowly becomes a man and discovers his own reserves of strength and ability to love. The secondary characters are very well-drawn, from the knights and squires to the various townspeople Benedict comes to know, from apprentices to paupers. I was especially drawn to the murdered girl’s sister, who becomes a valuable companion to Benedict. She is afflicted with something I interpret as scoliosis, which makes her the butt of derision, but she has an intelligent and unusually perceptive mind trapped in her twisted body.

I very much appreciate that the author did not attempt to make the language of the day mock-medieval. She did write the story in the present tense, however, as is becoming common more recently. As a reader, I find it makes the story-telling more immediate but slows the pace of the story.

This is an excellent first fictional outing for a medieval scholar and I highly recommend this to mystery and historical fiction aficionados.

Desc 1

The year is 1317, and young squire Benedict Russell has joined the English-held garrison of Berwick-upon-Tweed after the spectacular Scottish victory at Bannockburn three years earlier.

Serious and self-doubting, he can’t wait for his time there to come to an end. Living on the disputed territory between Scotland and England is a precarious existence, and as the Scots draw ever closer and the English king does nothing to stop them, Benedict finds himself in a race against time to solve the brutal murder of a young girl and find the traitor who lurks within Berwick’s walls.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC #Histfic #Romance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today’s Review-A-Book Challenger is Arra. She blogs here https://arrastoneglade.wordpress.com/

Arra chose to read The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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This is a historical romance set in late 16th century Scotland.  Isobell, along with her brother Jasper and their friend Ian, have run away from London in order for Isobell to escape marriage to ‘Wicked Richard’, and are to start a new life in rural Aberdeenshire.  So begins the ‘fairy tale’ story of the Mermaid and the Bear.  I call it a ‘fairy story’ because it contains so many elements of that genre and is charmingly written, although the magical elements are more prosaic than the title might imply.

The book starts with a bold and intriguing statement – “The first time the sea killed me…” a portent that is echoed much later in the book. However, we are soon led from the grime of nausea, retching and an unpleasant sea voyage to the imagery of fairy tales and stories conjured up by Jasper to remind Isobell of their destination.  Faced with an arranged marriage to a man whose actions and attitude frighten her, Isobell has arranged to escape to a castle in Scotland where she is to assume the role of kitchen helper; whilst Jasper and Ian are to work at a nearby farm belonging to Ian’s cousin. Brought up in a grand house in London it is difficult to see how she would pull off this transformation, and indeed the housekeeper, Bessie Thom, sees through her straight away.  However, as Isobell relates her story, Bessie is swayed to take Isobell under her wing.

We are soon introduced to the other main characters connected to the castle; Agnes the governess who feels resentment at Isobell’s intrusion into the household not least because they have to share a room. Duncan the friendly greeve (steward) of the castle who lives in a charming little house in the woods.  Christen Michell, secret Catholic and the stern and forbidding lady of the castle whose deceased daughter Mary had been the Laird’s wife. Wee Thomas the sweet little son of the Laird and Mary, and whom Agnes looks after, although not with any particular skill or affection.  And of course, Thomas Manteith the Laird himself, the bear of the title, and whose first glimpse of Isobell brings blushes to her cheeks.

Isobell falls naturally into the rhythm of castle life, and with a few setbacks here and there, progresses from kitchen helper to governess, supplanting Agnes along the way. Christen Michell warms to her when she nurses Wee Thomas and tries to introduce her to the Catholic faith. Isobell meanwhile relishes in the countryside surrounding the castle, the pool that she swims in and the stone circle, and the old ways that she feels connected to.

It is no surprise that romance blooms along the way, and we would be forgiven for thinking that all involved would soon live ‘happily ever after’.  However, romantic fiction needs a cruel twist, and Sinclair introduces the element of witchcraft into her fairy story with unhappy conclusions.

As you discover in the historical notes at the end of the book Ailish Sinclair took the names of three real women accused of witchcraft in 1597 – Isobell Manteith, Bessie Thom and Christen Michell, and has woven them a sumptuous story based around some basic facts.  A timely reminder of the horrors of the 16th century witch hunts, and one which Sinclair has used well in her story.

If you want to be whisked away into a magical world of 16th century Scotland with beautiful descriptions, delightful characters and an easy to read style, then this book is probably for you.

I enjoyed the book and hesitate to offer any criticism because it fits very well into the genre of historical romance that it is aimed at.  I don’t tend to read many books in this genre in general as I find it can be a bit cliched at times.  We all know who Isobell will end up with, and her life feels slightly unrealistically charmed at times.  I suspect a young girl from a grand house in 16th century London would not have fitted into a rural Scottish castle quite so well in real life and may not have even been able to understand the language spoken.  But this isn’t ‘history’ this is ‘romance’ and Sinclair has a lovely way with words that is perfect for escapism (and something we have all needed this year).  The book does take a dark turn and I think Sinclair could have done even more with the witchcraft section of the story as she has obviously done her research.

If you are drawn to historical romances I would highly recommend it, and I am sure you will be delighted with it.  I hope Sinclair has more stories within her and continues to charm her readers.

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today’s team review is from Liz, she blogs here https://lizannelloyd.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Liz has been reading The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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Scotland in 1597 was not a place to be a woman, especially a woman of faith, opinions or healing gifts.  But Isobell has fled from her London home to avoid marriage to a cruel Englishman and has found kindness and friendship in a Scottish castle.  Hiding her wealthy background, she starts work as a kitchen maid but her clumsy mistakes reveal her lack of experience.  While Bessie, the housekeeper guards her secrets, Isobell must be more cautious with Agnes, the spiteful governess and Christen, the aristocratic lady of the house.

Soon Isobell is captivated by the impressive castle and its fairy tale setting and she finds meeting the Laird is an overwhelming experience. It is a pleasure to read of their growing romance despite misunderstandings but as they grow closer, others gather to cause pain and suffering.

This carefully researched story is based on true events in Aberdeen when cruel men gained power over innocent women by accusing them of witchcraft.  It is a horrifying story from our history, mirrored in other parts of the United Kingdom.  Thankfully in The Mermaid and the Bear the sadness is tempered by love and kinship in a believable and satisfying conclusion.  An enchanting novel.

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

50828661. sx318 sy475