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Today I am thrilled to share a review of a book that I’d followed eagerly on Twitter. I first heard of this book in 2018 when I happened to spot a tweet by a local author, I had sporadically read blog posts with local connections by her and was quite intrigued by the idea of her book. Witchcraft is something intrinsically woven throughout Scottish history, but the majority of the tales seem to be concentrated in the central belt of the country, with little mention of anything near Aberdeen. But with research and a determined outlook, Ailish Sinclair has taken the stories of three of these accused women and crafted it into a story.

  • Title: The Mermaid and the Bear
  • Author: Ailish Sinclair
  • Publisher: GWL Publishing
  • Publication Date: 16th October 2019

Copy purchased via amazon.co.uk

Description:

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

My Thoughts:

The moment I heard about this book I was intrigued, I do love a historical read and if you throw in a tale with some witchcraft, well you’re pretty much guarantee to grab my attention. The publication date couldn’t roll around quick enough for me and so on 16th October it magically arrived on my kindle and I instantly started reading.

Readers meet Isobell as she flees for her life under the cover of darkness with her brother and friend, and their escape brings them to the safety of Scotland. There they have jobs waiting for them, safety and a new lives, which all seems idyllic in the setting of a castle surrounded by woodlands, lochs and a stone circle.
As a young lass finding her feet in a new place, Isobell soon finds an ally in the cook, Bessie Thom. Through her chats with Bessie, readers find out more about the Laird and the Manteith family. And the more Isobell finds out about the elusive Laird and his son, the more she comes to like them, and indeed a chance meeting with Thomas Manteith sets in motion events that change everything.

With beautifully flowing narrative, it’s not difficult to get caught up in the story. Rich, atmospheric descriptions bring the scenes alive, readers can see the delights that Bessie and Isobell create to serve at the feasts, can feel the crispness of the cool air and waters of the loch.
The characters are brought to life so well, each of their individual personalities become so real as they develop from being mere names on a page. I found myself becoming infuriated by the actions of some, feeling appreciation for others, and will admit that I did find a fondness towards others.

This wonderful magical tale then takes a deviation towards the darkness and from here Sinclair’s research and writing really shines. Her portrayal of 16th century Scotland is entrancing, and the details of the witch-hunts taking place in that time are fascinating. Taking inspiration from events that took place in Aberdeen during this time, Sinclair has highlighted a horrific world where power wielded over innocent people under the guise of religion or witchery. The actions of those heading up the hunts were deplorable, but at the time, this was accepted as the “norm”, there was little understanding of things fell outside these parameters.

Although there is a romantic arc to the plot, there is so much more to this book and I would urge any fans of historical fiction involving tales of witchcraft to look into reading this book.

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