📚#HistoricalRomance. Georgia reviews Sisters At The Edge Of The World by @AilishSinclair for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Georgia.

Georgia blogs here https://www.georgiarosebooks.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Georgia has been reading Sisters At The Edge Of The World by Ailish Sinclair

Sisters At The Edge Of The World by Ailish Sinclair

I chose to read this book as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and because it was recommended by another member of that team. The author sent me a copy but that does not affect my review in any way.

Morragh and Onnagh are not birth sisters but Morragh was saved by Onnagh as a child and they have been together ever since. Morragh is mute until a particular incident causes her to speak. Blessed with second sight she foresees the coming battle between her Caledonian tribe and the Roman Sons of Mars, the bloodshed that will entail and the fates of those around her.

This book was very well written and the story compelling which kept the pages turning and while it is not my usual choice of book, I’m glad it was recommended as I enjoyed the storyline and the links to the history of northern Scotland.

Orange rose book description
Book description

When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land.

What she does next constitutes a huge betrayal of her people, threatening her closest relationships and even her way of life itself.

As the conflict between the Caledonian tribes and the Roman Sons of Mars intensifies, can she use her high status in the community to lessen the coming death toll or even prevent outright war?

Set in 1st century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love.

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📚’She has no idea that he is an invader in her land.’ @OlgaNM7 reviews Scottish #Histfic Sisters At The Edge Of The World by @AilishSinclair for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga.

Olga blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Orange rose and Rosie's Book Review Team
Rosie’s Book Review Team

Olga has been reading Sisters At The Edge Of The World by Ailish Sinclair

Sisters At The Edge Of The World by Ailish Sinclair

I have read many glowing reviews of Ailish Sinclair’s previous books, and when I saw this one, I thought it was my chance to finally get to read one of them. I must confess to not remembering the exact details when I started to read the story, and I found it a pretty unique reading experience.

Morragh, the main protagonist, doesn’t talk at the beginning of the story (we don’t know if she can’t or chooses not to), at least she doesn’t talk to other people, but she communicates with gods, animals, and can see the future, We know all that because the story is narrated in the first person, from her point of view, and that gives the story a special feel, as she doesn’t experience things as most of us do. Reality, dreams, and visions of the past and the future (her own and others’) are all one for her, and she doesn’t always know when she is being herself or when she is being inhabited by the goddess. The language is poetic, made up of impressions and abstract images, and I felt as if I was in the middle of an ancient world I didn’t know the rules of, witnessing something momentous but alien. Her relationship with her sister (Onnagh) —who is not her biological sister but rescued her from a tragic fate— is one of the strengths of the book for me. I loved the bond between these chosen sisters, because, despite their closeness, they don’t always see things the same way. There are conflicts, moments when they don’t understand each other, and moments of anger and disappointment, but, ultimately, theirs is the strongest relationship in the book, as the beautiful title indicates.

Morragh learns much during the book, about love, about men, the importance of speaking, and the trade-off of communicating and interacting with the larger community, as there is something to be gained and something to be lost by changing her ways. Ultimately, though, she does what she thinks is right and necessary, even if it doesn’t always seem wise or advisable. Being her (as we know because we are inside her head) is not easy, and that is what makes her, her decisions, and her actions, such an extraordinary character.

The description of the book contains enough details of the plot, so I won’t add too much to it. There are quiet and contemplative moments when Morragh reflects, thinks, chats to her sister and peers, meets new people… and there are also rites, battles, fleeing, tragedy, and plenty of drama for those who love action, although they are not what fans of most historical fiction would expect. This is not an objective account full of detailed descriptions of clothes, strategies, and locations, as if the reader was an observer watching everything from the sideline, but a whirlwind of impressions, thoughts, and feelings, as if one was suddenly dropped in the middle of the battle. And some of the events take on a magical and mythological quality that adds much to the story but are not the usual fare of narrowly-defined historical fiction.

I am not very familiar with Celt folklore and mythology or ancient Scottish history, so although I enjoyed the story, I was grateful for the historical note the author includes at the end of the book. It clarifies which parts of the novel are based on historical fact, giving readers the opportunity to explore that era of Scottish history further if they are interested, and it provides locations for those keen to visit Aberdeenshire. I also enjoyed her comments about the process of creating the novel. Having read it, I can easily understand why it took her so long to write and publish it. The melding of the magical, mythological, historical, fictional, and, especially, emotional elements of the story, require a special kind of talent. And plenty of time and work.

There is much pain, death, loss, and destruction in this novel, but there is also plenty of love, loyalty, a sense of community, dedication, self-sacrifice, generosity, a sense of duty… There are moments of joy and very sad moments too, but, in my opinion, the sense of wonder and hope prevails, and I loved the ending.

Here are a few fragments of the novel, although I recommend checking a sample of the book to be sure the style suits the reader’s taste.

She did not get to be a child, my dear sister. Not after she saved m. And I am so sad for this. Onnagh should have been carefree and full of joy and fun and had someone to care for her too.

We cannot go back. Not ever. And nor should we. We can learn from the past, but we must only ever create the new. Water flows ever on. As do we.

And we all change.

The small metal discs are shiny with the heads of men who have been made important on them. These are the men who play games of war and conquest. But these are not the men who will fight or die in those games. There we differ from Rome. Our leaders will be among us in the fullness of the fray. The heads on these coins? They will stay in their grand and shiny stone houses, eating the oily little fruits that I have come to love. These metal men are not in any danger.

From some of the reviews I’ve read, I understand that the book is set in the same location as some of the author’s previous novels, but not having read any of them, at times I missed having access to more standard descriptions of the places and the people who play a part in the story, but, in all fairness, I don’t think it would have suited the style of writing, which at times reminded me of stream of thought, especially when Morragh was experiencing unusual events.

I cannot compare this novel to others by the author, but I am pretty sure her fans will enjoy this story as much or even more than the previous ones, and those who are looking for a strong females protagonist, love lyrical and expressive writing styles, and favour stories with a touch of magic and ancient mythology, particularly set in Scotland, should put it on their list. They are bound to discover a new author to follow, and a protagonist they’ll never forget.

Orange rose book description
Book description

When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land.

What she does next constitutes a huge betrayal of her people, threatening her closest relationships and even her way of life itself.

As the conflict between the Caledonian tribes and the Roman Sons of Mars intensifies, can she use her high status in the community to lessen the coming death toll or even prevent outright war?

Set in 1st century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love.

AmazonUK AmazonUS

⚔’The first book in the Darkland Tales series’. Sandra reviews Scottish #Histfic Rizzio by @DameDeniseMina, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT ⚔

Today’s team review is from Sandra. Find her here https://www.firthproof.co.uk/index.php/book-reviews

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Sandra has been reading Rizzio by Dame Denise Mina

Historical Mystery

Rizzio is the first book in the Darkland Tales series, where Scottish authors focus on a historical event and view it through a modern lens.  On March 9th 1566, Mary Queen of Scots’ private secretary, David Rizzio, is murdered in front of her, during a supper party in her private chambers. Encouraged by his father, Mary’s husband, Darnley, is one of the conspirators. Known to be frustrated by his lack of power, as he is only her consort, not king in his own right, Darnley is easily manipulated by those who stand to lose their estates and power, and wish to remove her from the throne – her only crime is to be Catholic and a woman.

Having grown up in Scotland, I knew a bit about Mary Queen of Scots, but had never come across this story before. Denise Mina’s fresh interpretation brings it to life in a way that no text book ever could; it is historical fiction viewed through the filter of a crime novelist. It is a short novella and I read it in one sitting, but it left me hungry to know more. Told from the point if view of an omniscient narrator, you do not just read this story, you feel as if you are right in the middle of the action. The characters are well drawn, easy to distinguish, and the vivid descriptions of the clothes, food and furnishings add authenticity. The facts are known, but Denise Mina’s excellent writing turns it into a tense, gripping and emotional narrative. It is a very dark tale of greed, the desire for power, and the fragile position of women in society. I really enjoyed Rizzio, and am keen to read the other volumes in this fascinating series.

Desc 1

On the evening of March 9th, 1566, David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered. Dragged from the chamber of the heavily pregnant Mary, Rizzio was stabbed fifty six times by a party of assassins. This breathtakingly tense novella dramatises the events that led up to that night, telling the infamous story as it has never been told before.

A dark tale of sex, secrets and lies, Rizzio looks at a shocking historical murder through a modern lens—and explores the lengths that men and women will go to in their search for love and power.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

📚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

‘Watson brings the medieval stronghold of Berwick-upon-Tweed to life in dark and beautiful ways’. Jenni reviews Dark Hunter by F. J. Watson. #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Jenni. Find her here https://jenniferdebie.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Jenni has been reading Dark Hunter by F J Watson.

Historian F.J. Watson brings the medieval stronghold of Berwick-upon-Tweed to life in dark and beautiful ways in her haunting debut novel, Dark Hunter: A Town Under Siege. A Killer Within. Set physically in a city just a stone’s throw away from the modern boarder between Scotland and England, and positioned temporally only three short years after the disastrous Battle of Bannockburn, Watson brings all of her skill as a historian to bear in recreating the peril, and paranoia, that comes with being an Englishman defending King Edward II’s claim to Scotland in this particular time and place. The ongoing attrition with the Scots is a losing battle and the men at Berwick know that, even as they send reports and pleas back to their king for support across the course of the novel.

In the midst of this throng, a murder takes place. The beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant is stabbed to death and left outside the city walls, with no clear motive for her death, or obvious culprit, in sight.

Raised for the church and a life of quiet scholarship, only to be pressed down a martial path when his older brother dies suddenly before the novel begins, the responsibility for solving this murder falls squarely on the shoulders of Squire Benedict Russell. As the novel unfolds, Ben must grapple with his faith in God, his belief in those around him, and his understanding of where the myriad lines of good, evil, loyalty, and logic lead him. Answers are almost always complicated, and endings are rarely clean in the 14th century, and Ben’s experiences as he searches for the truth alongside Lucy, younger sister to the murdered girl, reflect that.

From the bells used to mark the time, to the mud of the streets, to the way his fellow squire, Will, treats the girls working in garrison’s kitchen, Watson’s extensive experience as a historian of this time and place shine in the little details. This is no sanitized view of the medieval period, there is rot here, and cruelty, even as there is beauty and cleverness and a protagonist who is only searching for the truth.

Beautiful in spite of the darkness, unflinching in its portrayal of the complicated dynamics within a wartime border town, and full of strongly drawn characters, Dark Hunter is a satisfying mystery sure to please fans of crime thrillers and historical novels alike.

5/5

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

‘Early 14th Century territory wars between Scotland and England’. @TerryTyler4 reviews #HistoricalFiction Dark Hunter by Fiona Watson.

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading Dark Hunter by Fiona Watson

This novel’s background is factual; it centres around the early 14th Century territory wars between Scotland, led by Robert the Bruce, and England with its ineffectual King Edward II.  

Squire Benedict Russell has joined the English-held garrison of Berwick-on-Tweed, but soon finds that his attention is taken up by the murder of a young woman from a good family; he is given the task of finding her killer.

Rather than the murder mystery, it was the setting and the era that made me choose the book, as I love reading about both Plantagenet history and wars, and have been to Berwick several times. I did guess the identity of the murderer early on, but this did not matter because, for me, Benedict’s sleuthing activities came second to the book’s greatest strength: the intricate detail about the people and how they lived, their customs, beliefs, every day life, all woven so seamlessly into the narrative, which flowed so well. I’ve rarely read a piece of historical fiction that put me so much in the place and time.

There are a lot of characters, many with similar names so I admit to getting a tad confused at times.  I didn’t know which were real and which were fictional; a short ‘afterword’ might have been useful, so that the reader could discover which fictional characters were based on actual historical figures, etc, and what happened afterwards (though I did hit the internet for more information after I’d finished the book!).

F J Watson must surely be something of an authority on the history of the town; I’d say this book is a must-read for anyone who lives in Berwick and is interested in its past.  Fascinating; one of those novels that makes you want to go back in time and see it all. 

Incidentally, I discovered on my first visit to Berwick that most consider themselves staunchly English, to the extent that some pubs and shops have the English flag in the window, though everyone I spoke to behind bars and shop counters had a Scottish accent!

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

‘What a wild, dark and dangerous place 16th Century Scotland was.’ @TerryTyler4 reviews #HistoricalFiction Rizzio by @DameDeniseMina

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading Rizzio by Denise Mina.

5 stars

The first word that came to mind when I was thinking how to describe this book was ‘enchanting’, though the story itself is the very opposite. The way in which it is written, however, is a delight indeed, even down to the off-the-wall chapter headings. The shocking story of the murder of David Rizzio, servant, advisor and friend to Mary, Queen of Scots, bounces along in page-turning fashion, with a whisper of almost humorous cynicism as the author narrates the appalling events of the few days in question.

It is a chilling irony that the hornéd demons who stormed the Queen’s apartments in Holyrood Palace claimed to be motivated partly by divisions in the Christian church – this grisly moment in history could have come straight from an anthology entitled ‘The Devil and his Work’. Also that the unborn child the demonic lords were so keen to write off actually became James VI of Scotland and James I of England – named by Elizabeth I as her successor.

Spoiled wastrel Lord Darnley – Mary’s husband who threw his toys out of his pram when he didn’t receive his ‘Crown Matrimonial’ (the sharing of the reign and the authority to rule in his own right if he outlived her) – was beautifully portrayed, while background information about the activities of his father and some of the other lords who took part in the brutality sent a chill up my spine that remains with me. This novella brings home what a wild, dark and dangerous place 16th Century Scotland was – every scene is atmospherically perfect, and one is given the feeling that in aristocratic and ‘noble’ circles, one’s life was hanging by a thread pretty much all the time.  

I loved what Denise Mina did with the insane Henry Yair, and the ‘afterwards’ section, when we read what happened to Mary in the years to follow and, most interesting of all, what happened to the Queen’s apartments at Holyrood Palace. Fascinating. I have to look up more about this!

Excellent.  Loved it.

Desc 1

From the multi-award-winning master of crime, Denise Mina delivers a radical new take on one of the darkest episodes in Scottish history—the bloody assassination of David Rizzio  private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, in the queen’s chambers in Holyrood Palace.

On the evening of March 9th, 1566, David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered. Dragged from the chamber of the heavily pregnant Mary, Rizzio was stabbed fifty six times by a party of assassins. This breathtakingly tense novella dramatises the events that led up to that night, telling the infamous story as it has never been told before.

A dark tale of sex, secrets and lies, Rizzio looks at a shocking historical murder through a modern lens—and explores the lengths that men and women will go to in their search for love and power.

Rizzio is nothing less than a provocative and thrilling new literary masterpiece.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Scottish #HistoricalFiction Set in 1317. @OlgaNM7 Reviews Dark Hunter by Fiona Watson, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Dark Hunter by Fiona Watson.

I have never read any books by the author, but she is an expert in Scottish history and has written and talked about it often, and that is evident when reading this novel, that fits well in the historical fiction genre, with the added attraction of a mystery, the murder of a young woman, thrown in. The investigation of that murder would have been difficult enough in normal circumstances, but it becomes almost impossible in the trying and tense times Scotland, and particularly Berwick-upon-Tweed, are living through in the historical period the novel is set in.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in detail. I am not referring to what really happened during the siege of the city (that is easy to check, and the author doesn’t stray from the facts but puts plenty of flesh onto the bare bones that have reached us about the event), but to the mystery introduced by Watson. I don’t want to spoil the story for readers, and there are plenty of details that I feel need to be read to be appreciated, but I am pretty sure that most mystery readers would enjoy the story because although it is not conventional, they will recognise many of the elements of stories with amateur sleuths (a good observer, with no special training but clever, with particular talents to go beyond and see what others don’t, a keen eye for picking up clues and examining evidence, some very peculiar allies, some early forensic analysis of the scene of the crime, and even a cipher). But there are plenty of themes that play a part in the story and that will easily connect with all kinds of readers: doubts about one’s identity and profession (particularly relevant for the protagonist, a young man on the verge of adulthood); the difficulty in really knowing and understanding others (and not jumping to conclusions and judgements about those around us); how to go beyond appearances and listen to one’s heart; the importance of learning to accept our own priorities and ignoring other people’s opinions; issues of national identity, loyalty, duty…; conquerors and conquered and their relationship (changing at times), and particularly the way women are victimised and pay a big price in war situations (something we are all thinking about at the moment); the social differences of the period and how those dictated one’s fate…

There are many characters in this novel, and in some ways it made me think of Shakespeare’s historical plays, where there is a vast cast of characters with very complex relationships of power and influence between them. Here we have the same, with the complication of the added fictional characters. Although with so many characters it is impossible to get to know them all in-depth, the author’s skill in making us see things from the protagonist’s perspective means that it is difficult to tell apart the historical characters from those she has created for the story. Benedict is the perfect protagonist for this novel. He is an outsider, both to the situation and to the place, and that makes him the perfect guide for the reader, as we feel as puzzled and uncertain as he does. He is naïve and has little experience in soldiering and real life, as he was following religious studies before a family tragedy changed his fate and threw him in the middle of a dangerous and fairly alien situation. On the one hand, he is more educated than many of the men around him, even those in charge, and that gives him unique skills that help him solve the mystery and discover other behaviours far from exemplary. On the other, he is new to the politics and to the struggles for power that underpin many of the events that take place, and his view of army life and of the situation he finds himself plunged into, at least at the beginning of the story, is simplistic and unrealistic. He expects people to behave according to high moral standards, but he soon discovers those around him are only human beings and far from perfect, and the “enemies” are not big scary devils either. As the story is narrated in the first person and present tense from Benedict’s point of view, readers` opinions are coloured by his judgement, sometimes pretty quick and one-sided, and only get to appreciate the nuances of some of the other soldiers and inhabitants when the protagonist is confronted with evidence that contradicts his first opinion. To give him his due (and I did like Benedict because he is passionate and devoted to what he feels is his mission, and is willing to give a chance to people ignored by the good society), he is willing to acknowledge his mistakes, to change his point of view, and he is, at times, a good judge of character, even when that means going against general opinion. In her acknowledgements, the author describes Benedict as “priggish” and “naïve”, but she also refers to “his kindness and gentle spirit” and to a “less jaded view of the world” that reminds her of her son, and I cannot argue with that.

His love interest (and there is one, as there should be in a novel that is also a coming of age story) is, perhaps, my favourite character, and Lucy is fascinating and unusual for many reasons. It was refreshing to see a female protagonist (quite a few women appear in the story, although most don’t have big parts, as seems to be the case in many war stories) who isn’t conventionally beautiful but is irresistible nonetheless. The fact that she has to face many challenges, (other characters call her “a cripple”) but never bends to conventions or hides behind closed doors make her unique, although I have a soft spot for all the women in the novel, as they have to endure trials beyond those of the men, with little if any, acknowledgment.

Berrick-upon- Tweed plays a very important part in the novel, and it is more than a setting, as it does reflect the feelings and the changing fortunes of Scotland, England, and the people inside it, with its changing loyalties and sense of self. The author includes a map of the town with the main locations that play a part in the story, and that helps us better imagine the comings and goings of the characters and the intrigues that take place. (There was no cast of characters included in my copy, and I am not sure if that is to appear in the final version or the paperback copy, but I think it might be useful to readers to have a bit of added information about the characters, especially those based on real historical figures).

I enjoyed the writing. Apart from the first person present tense narration of most of the novel, the first chapter contains a brief fragment, in italics, told from a different point of view, whose meaning we don’t fully understand until much later in the story (but we might suspect from early on). There are descriptions of places, people, and everyday life that give us a good sense of what living in that period must have been like, and despite the tense atmosphere, there are lighter interludes as well. There are beautiful passages, some contemplative, reflective and poetic, and also some very tense and action-packed moments, although the rhythm of the novel, which takes place over a year, reflects well the seasons and the experience of the men at the garrison, with a lot of waiting, preparing and hanging around, and some frantic moments when all hell breaks loose. The alternating of quiet moments with fast-paced ones (and those become more frequent towards the end) accommodates well both, the historical events and the mystery, giving each enough time to develop. Mine was an ARC copy and there might be changes in the published version, but I share a couple of fragments I highlighted:

I stretch and walk again, trying not to think about the passing of time, for such thoughts only draw it out like an arrow that is never sprung.

Wandering downstairs before bed, I stand outside in the yard for a moment, watching the moon —waning now— cast her patient gaze upon us. The stars lie above, held up by angels. I pray that all will be well.

I see, too, that we live in difficult times precisely because those, from the king down, who should behave the most honourably, the most justly, are little better than liars and thieves. This I have learnt.

The ending… As I said, the historical events are easy to check, and the novel remains faithful to them, although it emphasises how things change and nothing is settled forever. As for the fictional characters, especially Benedict, the ending is fairly open but hopeful, and I liked that aspect in particular. And, do not fret, the mysteries are solved.

I really enjoyed this novel, set in a historical period I knew very little about, and I particularly enjoyed the feeling of closeness and of sharing what it must have been like. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction, particularly those interested in Scottish history, lovers of mysteries set in the past, those who enjoy puzzles and ciphers (I always feel I would like to be shown the actual text they are trying to decipher), and readers who enjoyed The Name of the Rose might want to check this one (although it has been a long time since I have read it or even watched the movie, so take that with a pinch of salt). This is not a cozy mystery, though, and readers should be warned about the use of strong language at times, violent scenes (not the most explicit I’ve read, but this is a war after all), torture, rape, and violence towards women (again, not explicit but disturbing nonetheless). But anybody who enjoys well-written and well-informed historical fiction set in the XIV century, are interested in the Scottish-English conflict and don’t feel the warnings apply to them, should check this novel. Fiona Watson’s move to fiction is a success, and I hope this will be the first of many of her novels to see the light.

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.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction SEVERED KNOT by @CryssaBazos #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Severed Knot by Cryssa Bazos

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4.5 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book so much.  The basic story: Iain Johnstone is a Scottish soldier imprisoned by Cromwell’s men after persuading many of his contemporaries to go south and fight for Charles II.  Mairead O’Conneil is a young woman staying at her uncle’s house in rural Eire for ‘safety’ while her father and brothers fight the Parlimentarians ~ but then the soliders come… and both Iain and Mairead find themselves on a slave ship bound for Barbados.

I hadn’t read this relatively new writer before, but I’m glad I’ve discovered her; she’s seriously talented.  The book is professionally presented, which I appreciated so much; it is clear that the research has been both meticulous and extensive, but at no time was I overly aware of it; I never felt that I was reading her research notes, as can so often be the case.  The atmosphere of the prisons, the slave ships and the Barbadian plantations, with all their horrors, is colourfully illustrated, and her characterisation and dialogue kept me engrossed, throughout.  I liked, too, that it gave me a view of how the English troubles spread far and wide.  Aside from all this, it’s a terrific adventure story.

Within the plot is a romantic thread, a background shadow in the first half of the book that steps closer to centre stage as it goes on.  The theme is the romantic novel standard of two people taking against each other on sight then being extraordinarily rude to each other whenever they cross paths before finally admitting their passion, which can work well if cleverly written, and this was.

Sadly, though, because of the descriptions of Mairead (tiny, skinny, frizzy-haired, plain, sprite, ‘Mouse’) I could only ever picture her as a sort of meek teenage imp, rather than a woman likely to inflame the passions of the Sean Bean-as-Sharpe/Boromir-like Iain, so it fell a little flat for me.  This sort of opinion is only ever a personal viewpoint, though, and I must bear in mind that I not a fan of romantic fiction, generally; I was glad that other non-love stuff made up the main body of the book.

Despite these reservations, I am still rounding the 4.5* up to 5* on Amazon in the interests of objective reviewing, because it really is an exceptionally good novel, and I will definitely place her on my mental ‘read more’ list.

Book description

Barbados 1652. In the aftermath of the English Civil War, the vanquished are uprooted and scattered to the ends of the earth.

When marauding English soldiers descend on Mairead O’Coneill’s family farm, she is sold into indentured servitude. After surviving a harrowing voyage, the young Irish woman is auctioned off to a Barbados sugar plantation where she is thrust into a hostile world of depravation and heartbreak. Though stripped of her freedom, Mairead refuses to surrender her dignity.

Scottish prisoner of war Iain Johnstone has descended into hell. Under a blazing sun thousands of miles from home, he endures forced indentured labour in the unforgiving cane fields. As Iain plots his escape to save his men, his loyalties are tested by his yearning for Mairead and his desire to protect her.

With their future stolen, Mairead and Iain discover passion and freedom in each other’s arms. Until one fateful night, a dramatic chain of events turns them into fugitives.

Together they fight to survive; together they are determined to escape.

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Rosie’s Review Team #RBRT THE FIRST BLAST OF THE TRUMPET @MGMacPherson #HistFic #TuesdaybookBlog

Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs at http://saylingaway.wordpress.com

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading The First Blast Of The Trumpet by Marie MacPherson

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The book is the first of a trilogy about John Knox, a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the Reformation and the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, marking the 500th anniversary of his birth. In this first book, Knox plays a minor role to the two main characters: Elizabeth Hepburn, a feisty woman who becomes the Prioress of a convent, and David Lindsey, her one-time lover, who is the long-time tutor and confidant of King James V of Scotland.

The story opens with a charming scene that reminded me of Little Women, where Betsy, the nanny to the three Hepburn daughter, herbalist and possible witch, divines the girls’ fates from the tossing of nuts into a blazing fire. The three girls are completely different in character and although the book traces the fate of little Meg and the voluptuous and fiery Kate, it is the strong-willed Elizabeth who drives the story.

This is a meticulously researched historical novel, right down to the immediate inclusion of a Scots dialect with the English. I must admit this put me off at first, because there were many words I didn’t know and I hardly wanted to take time to look them up. However, as the chapters passed it became clear what the words meant, much like reading English with words represented by only a few letters.

The amount of detail, intertwined plots, religious conflicts, monarchical rivalries, and interpersonal connections are too much for this reviewer to detail, but if a sense of time and place drive your interest in history, and especially Scottish history, you will be in pig heaven.

Ms. Macpherson’s main characters shine with description like bright pennies – the gluttonous and painted Dame Janet, Prioress before Elizabeth; Maryoth, the nun covetous of being prioress, evil and conniving against Elizabeth; John, Elizabeth’s uncle and Prior of St. Mary’s, greedy and eager to have Elizabeth replace Janet, his sister, to keep the rich convent in the family; and Davie Lindsey, Elizabeth’s young lover, who proves feckless and sacrifices Elizabeth more than once to serve his king. If there was any downside to the many characters, it was the number of them, but the author includes family trees and a complete cast of characters for the challenged!

There are no lusty love scenes, although rape and sex abound, so this is not a romantic barn-burner. The author, however, does a great job educating the reader about the social mores of sex, courtship, marriage and child-bearing.

John Knox comes into the tale rather late, as the apparent son of a poor woman, into whose lungs Elizabeth breathes life, then adopts as her godson. He will be a major character in the next two books. This volume lays down the considerable history of the time from Margaret Tudor, sister to Henry VIII and wife of James IV, to the birth and early years of Mary, Queen of Scots, and sets the stage for Mary’s contentious relationship with Knox.

All in all, a challenging and intellectual but satisfying read, which I recommend – but not to the casual reader.

Book description

Hailes Castle, 1511. Midnight on a doom-laden Hallowe’en and Elisabeth Hepburn, feisty daughter of the Earl of Bothwell, makes a wish ― to wed her lover, the poet David Lindsay. But her uncle has other plans. To safeguard the interests of the Hepbum family she is to become a nun and succeed her aunt as Prioress of St. Mary’s Abbey, Haddington.

However, plunged into the political maelstrom and religious turmoil of the early Scottish Reformation, her life there is hardly one of quiet contemplation. Strong-willed and independent, she clashes with those who question her unorthodox regime at St. Mary’s, including Cardinal David Beaton and her rival, Sister Maryoth Hay.

But her greatest struggle is against her thrawn godson, John Knox. Witnessing his rejection of the Roman Catholic Church ― aided by David Lindsay ― she despairs that the sins of her past may have contributed to his present disenchantment. 

As he purges himself from the puddle of papistry, Knox finds his voice, denouncing everything he once held dear, but will that include his godmother, Prioress Elisabeth? And by confessing her dark secrets, will Elisabeth steer Knox from the pernicious pull of Protestantism or drive him further down the fateful path he seems hell-bent on; a path that leads to burning at the stake?

In a daring attempt to shed light on a wheen of unanswered questions about John Knox’s early, undocumented life, this novel throws up some startling claims and controversial conjectures.

Book one of The Knox Trilogy.

About the author

Marie Macpherson

Marie Macpherson was born in the Honest Toun of Musselburgh, six miles from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. After earning an Honours Degree in Russian and English, she spent a year in Moscow and Leningrad to research her PhD thesis on the work of the 19th century Russian writer, Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. The rich history of East Lothian – especially the Reformation period – provides the inspiration for her first fictional work, based on the early life of the Scottish reformer, John Knox. Ms.Macpherson is the winner of the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and was awarded the title ‘Writer of the Year 2011’ by Tyne & Esk Writers.
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