Wednesday 27 July 2022

The Tacksman's Daughter by Donna Scott


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Fictional Drama

Purely as a matter of personal preference, occasionally a book has it all for me. To this happy list I add Donna Scott's marvelously crafted The Tacksman's Daughter. It ticks all the boxes. Set in Scotland? Check. Deals with a heretofore under-fictionalized historic event? Check. A cast of full-bodied, three-dimensional characters, both endearing and despicable? Check.

The author had me with at the first line: "February 2, 1692, Alt Na Munde, Glencoe, Scotland." Anyone passingly familiar with Scottish history immediately knows we're in for a tale of the tragic duplicity and murder wreaked by soldiers of Clan Campbell upon their unsuspecting and gracious hosts, the MacDonalds of Glencoe. This horrible abuse of the near-sacred Highland obligation of hospitality resonates to this day in the Scottish collective consciousness.

Ms Scott spins her engaging and heartbreaking tale through the eyes of an irresistible main character, Caitriona Cameron, daughter of one of the tacksmen—major landholders—under MacIain, chieftain of the MacDonalds. This places Cait in the stunning beautiful glen when red-coated soldiers arrive. These are mostly Scottish troops mustered from the Campbell lands and under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, a name reviled down the ensuing 300 years.

The MacDonalds offer shelter and hospitality to the troops who are transiting Glencoe when a winter storm hits, snowing them in for several days. Unbeknownst to their hosts, Captain Campbell has received orders to kill all persons under age of 70, women and children included. Cait narrowly escapes the massacre with the aid of advance warning from an English sergeant, with the remainder of the book taken up with her determined quest for vengeance and accompanying journey through her grief to a place of forgiveness, finding love along the way. Her quest meanders through Stirling and several villages before reaching its culmination in the crowded wynds and teeming streets of Edinburgh.

The author avoids most of the simplistic stereotypes and quasi-historical tropes into which she could easily have fallen; much myth-making has been spawned by the Massacre at Glencoe, after all. Instead, she creates very nuanced characters who, while deeply traumatized by the horror that occurred in the snows of Glencoe, show an uncanny ability to heal and evolve. The much-reviled Glenlyon, for example, becomes a more complicated, even pitiful, character in Ms Scott's supple handling. 

This volume is professionally edited and formatted, with a lovely and engaging cover.  Any weaknesses are small and detract very little from the craftsmanship of this accomplished storyteller. The Tacksman's Daughter should be a satisfying read for fans of Outlander, lovers of all things Scottish, and the general devotee of  historical fiction. I highly recommend this engrossing novel. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Jeffrey K. Walker
 e-version reviewed

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