1500s / Tudor
"1546, and Scotland is bludgeoned by Henry VIII, determined to marry his son to the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. A few among the Scottish nobles, for both political and religious reasons, are eager for this alliance too. They kill Cardinal Beaton, who is Mary’s great protector, and take St Andrews Castle, expecting rescue any day from England. For a sister and brother, spirited Bethia and rebellious Will, living in St Andrews and caught up on opposite sides, the siege becomes a fight for survival. As the long blockade unravels, it also becomes a test of their loyalties and what’s more important: to save their family, stay true to their beliefs, or to save themselves."
Bethia lives in St Andrews during the reign of Henry VIII in England, who likes to interfere with the reign of James in Scotland. Religion is as tumultuous north of the border as south, and accounts for the wasteful deaths of more than one person. After a particularly gruesome end to one cleric who dared to speak his truth, the young lairds of St Andrews decide to make a stand against the cardinal who ordered the burning of George Wishart. Bethia's brother is drawn into the plot and becomes one of the Castilians of St Andrews castle which they make their base and which then becomes their prison. Bethia knows a way in and out via the sea but she has other concerns: her younger brother, her friend and their looming marriages.
This novel is written in the present tense which does take some getting used to but does seem to be fashionable at the moment. There is plenty of detail from an author who seems to know her chosen town, and a period of history that isn't that well known (well, I didn't know about it!). The author has created a believable world with a range of characters; Bethia's mother is a needed lightness in what can be dark and politically heavy narration. The Scottish language certainly adds a sense of otherness, placing it firmly in Scotland.
Anyone who likes Scottish history, who has exhausted Outlander, will find comfort here in an earlier incarnation of Scottish heroes.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Louise Adam