Margaret Skea’s authentic voice and vivid prose immediately took me to the world of feuding clans in 1597 Scotland. Based on the epic themes of love and sacrifice, greed and ambition, A House Divided is a captivating, fast-paced portrait of a family caught in the middle and forced to make perilous decisions. You’ll find yourself reading far into the night, Skea’s characters alive in your imagination.
Ann Weisgarber: Walter Scott Prize and Orange shortlisted author of The Promise
‘Compelling sequel to Turn of the Tide and a classic adventure story of the highest calibre. Meticulous plotting and authentic period feel grips from the very first page.’
Shirley McKay: author of the Hew Cullen mystery series.
And an extract from my first reader review (the reader was supplied with an ARC).
The year is 1597 and King James VI is on the throne of Scotland. The south-west is torn by the century-old feud between two families, the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames, temporarily on hold (in public anyway) by a royal edict. The whole country is in the grips of one of the vilest episodes of witch hunting in its history.
For six years, Kate Munro and her three children have lived in secret with Hugh and Elizabeth Montgomerie at Braidstane in Ayrshire. Kate has taken the name Grant to protect the family from William Cunninghame, her husband’s sworn enemy. But the children are growing up and have begun asking questions – about their identity, and about their absent father. Munro (we aren’t told his first name until late in the novel) is in France, fighting with French King Henri IV at the siege of Amiens.
The story twists and turns, sometimes in unexpected directions, and the action shifts rapidly from Ayrshire to Edinburgh and back again. The final chapters take us on desperate, breathtaking journeys across mist-enshrouded moors, through flash-flooded rivers and along robber-infested highways. We see humanity at its worst in the tragedy of war, the harsh treatment of women and the horrors of the witch trials. But we see it at its best too: in loyal friendships; in courage against the most appalling odds; and in the determination of a man who, risking name and title, will go to length to see wrong righted and justice done.
The book contains some delightful passages of prose, descriptions of fields, woods and moors, and of domestic content. However, Margaret Skea doesn’t always do ‘nice’. When we need realism, she gives it to us. She does not draw back from the horrors of warfare, or of mob hysteria. Her descriptions of sickness, of wounds, of primitive medicine and midwifery display an intimate knowledge of the subject. However, she does not waste time on unnecessary detail, leaving the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. As a result, the story moves with pace and purpose.
Most of the characters in A House Divided were real people, some relatively unknown and unimportant in British history. Skea gives both those and her own creations life and personality.
A House Divided is truly an atmospheric and suspenseful novel, well plotted and executed, and a worthy sequel to Turn of the Tide.
I found it difficult to put down until I had finished.
The full review can be found here.
Andrew G. Lockhart.