shortlisted for Book of the Month
"I found it difficult to put this book down such was the hold it had on me. Everyone and everything was real. "
Scotland and Jamaica
"SCOTLAND, JULY 1746: an army of occupation ravages the Highlands, committing atrocities with consequences that will reverberate across generations. From this bloody cataclysm, the battle-hardened English soldier Mordaunt saves an infant who will become his heiress and his obsession, and on his shattered estate a traumatised Franco-Scottish laird, Ewen Stirling, offers refuge to a boy damaged by unspeakable horror. These lives, bound by fate, unfold against the turbulence of the eighteenth century in a magnificent, uncompromising saga of love and the human cost of war."
Scotland is savagely destroyed and The Clearances begin. Mordaunt is a Lt Colonel and Ewen Stirling is a minor laird who escapes the atrocities that Mordaunt witnesses and, indeed, in which he partakes. Both of these men take in children who have survived – Margaret to Mordaunt and Malcolm for Stirling. In time, the paths of those children will cross.
Malcolm is a bit of a tearaway, but eventually settles to administrate his adopted father's lands, alongside James, Ewen's true son. There is little love between them. Margaret is taken to the north of England, but, upon hearing of the circumstances of her adoption, she returns to Glen Sian to seek her father. She and Malcolm meet and eventually marry. To say more would spoil the plot.
I have categorised this as 'Epic' and indeed it is. The stories of these characters is told over a period of some 45 years, the landscapes sweeping and the writing consummate with that description.
It is almost a cliché to say that I lived in those cold climes of the Highlands when the action was set there, that I cared immensely for the welfare of the main characters, but the honest truth is that I truly did. Sitting, reading, in the warm sunshine of my garden, I would shiver when winter reached Glen Sian, the fictional setting for most of the book.
The standard of the writing encompasses the vast spectrum of the English language; the thoughts of each character are written with depth and thought, confirming the characters of each of them. For the most part, it is Margaret's story and her passages are written in the first person whilst all else is in third person.
Which leads me to what may be off-putting to some potential readers: there is a lot of head hopping and in many cases it is unclear for a while as to which character is being featured – only Margaret's contributions are obvious. Some characters are absent for long periods of time and one can tend to forget what has happened to them in the past. The book is very long indeed – just shy of 800 pages in paperback, yet I struggled to find any natural breaks where separate volumes could be ended or begun, such is the fluidity of the story. Having said that, there was one section that might have been transferred to a further volume as the location and introduction of new characters came as a surprise and, for me, a bit of a ponder about 'why' for a time.
Nor is this a book for the squeamish or sensitive. The violence in the first section of the book is extreme, frequent and very graphic. Also, the sexual scenes throughout may cause discomfort to some readers. Not that these are gratuitous (in my view) as sometimes we need to accept the realities of war, even in fiction, and that sex is not always a beautiful thing.
I found it difficult to put this book down such was the hold it had on me. Everyone and everything was real. At times it might be considered slow, yet the quality of the prose won't allow you to skip a word.
And a final warning; don't read the end until you get there; it is dramatic and unexpected - one of the best last pages I have ever read.
Very highly recommended, but beware the warnings. Stick with it, though, and you will have read a book that will stay with you for a very long time.
© Richard Tearle
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