Ailish Sinclair has written a captivating romantic fairy tale for adults, set in 1597 Scotland.
Isobell has been pledged by her father to marry a man she calls Wicked Richard. Together with two boys, Ian and Jasper, she flees her intended husband and a life of privilege in London, sailing in the hold of a ship to a smugglers cave below a remote castle in Scotland. There she will work as an assistant cook.
With no training for her menial job, she is taken under the wing of Bessie Thom, the castle’s cook – a large, jolly woman who is also an herbalist – who reminds me strongly of Mrs. Fitz in Outlander. Isobell meets Agnes, a sour and bitter young woman who is the governess to Wee Thomas and who loves to tell tales of witchcraft; the handsome Duncan McCulloch, Greeve of the castle; Christen Michel, an elderly woman who is the mother of the Laird’s first wife, Mary, who died giving birth to Wee Thomas; and finally the Laird himself, Thomas Monteith. All of these characters are so well drawn, I could easily see and hear them. The authentic use of Scottish words and phrases draws the reader into this medieval world.
I called this a fairy tale – Isobell falls in love with the laird, a bear of a man who is kind and gentle and sad – and the reader is lulled into contentment by both their love and the beauty that surrounds the castle: fairy pools and standing stones and beautiful woods. But this tale turns grim and gritty when it delves into accusations of witchcraft and witchcraft trials, prevalent at the time.
Thus the narrative encompasses hope and despair, good and evil, friends and enemies. The author writes beautiful descriptive prose of the Scottish countryside and delves into the heart of Isobell in an astonishing way, encompassing her views of conflicts between the Protestant and Catholic faiths and the feeling of the ancient religion, carried on by women, when Isobell finds the standing stones.
I really liked this book, despite the fact I expected and got a satisfying conclusion. Isn’t this usual for fairy tales?
A truly enchanting tale!
About the author
Ailish Sinclair trained as a dancer and taught dance for many years, before working in schools to help children with special needs. A short stint as a housekeeper in a castle fired her already keen interest in untold stories of the past and she sat down to research and write.
She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children where she still dances and writes and eats rather a lot of chocolate.
You can find Ailish Sinclair
On Twitter: @Ailish Sinclair
On her website: https://ailishsinclair.com/
And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ailish.sinclair.9
You can find The Mermaid and the Bear on Amazon: