Historical fiction at its absolute best.
This fascinating foray into the beginnings of the Scottish Reformation tells the fictional tale of Bethia and her brother Will, children of a wealthy merchant who are caught up in the activities surrounding the historical seizure of St. Andrews castle and the capture of Cardinal Beaton in the pious and tyrannically papist mid sixteenth century, following the Cardinal’s controversial command for the burning at the stake of the Protestant reformer George Wishart.
A sort of cousin novel to the wonderful “Katharina” by Margaret Skea (one of my favorite reads this year), this story picks up the thread of Martin Luther’s Reformation, this time following its northerly reach into the turbulent lives of a young family in Scotland.
“Bethia, of the quiet confidence and blue eyes that are so appealing” is ahead of her time, a young woman with the “mind and spirit of a son to make any father proud, all wasted in a woman’s body.”
Her brother Will, at fifteen, a strapping youth, is a heartbreaking blend of teenage bravado, pious asceticism, and naïveté.
“It is our task, set by God, to convince men of the error of their ways”.
The events that follow are told in alternating POVs. For Bethia, finding love means laying bare the appalling stranglehold adulthood places on women in this stultifying culture; for Will, the battle for his soul is violent and fraught with confusion.
“It was never supposed to be about politics but about faith and salvation”.
“He wonders if he will ever have a quiet heart again. The cardinal’s soul has invaded his and the Pope has cursed him. He is damned”.
Fans of historical fiction will love this book – impeccably researched and enthralling in its reach, I couldn’t put it down and loved and pined for both these characters and their struggles.
And without giving anything away (no spoilers here) – I was delighted with the ending, and chose to interpret it as a hint at more to come in this story…
A big thank you to the author for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.