Set around a Scottish castle in the 16th Century, this historical romance starts with an escape from a horrible betrothal. The book is told from the perspective of the rather naive Isobel. She is full of romantic ideas and fairy stories and is quickly at home in the delightful setting of glades and stone circles. The stories she tells become intertwined with the Old Ways taught to her by the affable Bessie Thom. The relationships that build in the castle, and the beautiful historical details especially around the Twelfth Night celebrations are very captivating.
The only criticism I might level was I was hardly surprised by the events in the second part of the novel. But that might be that the mixing of religion, both the Old Ways and Catholicism through the Christen Michell character was never going to end well in that era of Scottish history. With James VI mania for catching witches, we always feel that these strong-minded independent women may be in danger in this world. However whilst some of the things that go wrong for dear Isobel and Bessie and Christen are unsurprising, the way Isobel draws her own conclusions about how all the women’s beliefs sit side-by-side is done very well.
Overall the characters are lovable, I found it interesting that their lives intertwined slightly with Shakespeare and also touched on LGBT culture and attitudes at that time. It really felt that there was a depth of historical knowledge informing the narrative which I always enjoy. My only lament was that I wished I could learn more about Jasper who equally had a fascinating tale to tell.
I really enjoyed the historical detail in the novel even though at times it is a hard novel to read. I appreciated how the author cut away from the most violent acts. I think it will appeal to historical fiction fans including those who enjoyed Stacey Hall’s The Familiars.