A sweeping tale of compassion and cruelty, treachery and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of a religious war, feuding clans and the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597 – What’s not to like about A House Divided? I couldn’t wait to read it and savored it for as long as I could.
This is the second book in series about the Munro family and their enemy, the arch-villain of their story, William Cunninghame. Although I have not read the first in the series, The Turn of the Tide, A House Divided can be read as a stand-alone novel with no problem…except that I now feel compelled to treat myself to that first book.
The Munro family has been forced into hiding to escape their enemies, the wealthy Cunninghames. While Adam Munro fights in France with the Scots Garde, which is supporting Henri IV, Kate Munro takes shelter with her children at the Montgomerie stronghold of Braistane. There she takes the surname Grant to hide her and the children’s identity. The Cunninghame son, thinking all the Munros are dead from their persecution, takes possession of the Munro’s home at Broomelaw and is rebuilding the estate for himself.
Kate supports herself by working as a ‘wise woman,’ the term used for an herbalist and a midwife. These woman are often accused of being witches, and Kate courts danger during a period when witchcraft trials and burnings are common in Scotland. Kate is partially identified when she attends the wife of a Cunninghame supporter, and her daughter, who is training with her mother to be a wise woman, also becomes visible in the countryside when she answers some of the calls for Kate to provide medical help. When Kate’s growing reputation results in her being asked to attend Queen Anne, the wife of James VI, the chances she will be seen by the Cunninghame family at court increase exponentially.
Although the story focuses on Kate, Adam is not forgotten as the reader is treated to the vicissitudes of the war in France, King Henri’s increasing reliance on him, and Adam’s attempts to find a way home to see his family, from whom he has been separated for several years. I found these interludes to be less compelling than Kate’s story, but necessary to the direction of the overall plot.
This is an exceptional book, combining the tensions of several story lines with exquisite detail of life in Scotland in the 16th century. I loved the descriptions of herbal remedies and as the wife of an obstetrician, I found the midwifery fascinating.
The characters are exceptionally well wrought, pulling you into each scene. Skea is a master of description, from the lovely countryside to the details of siege warfare, the trials of witches, and the daily, mundane chores of everyday family life. Set against this rich tapestry is the rising and falling tension that Kate and/or Adam will be discovered, which did not play well with my blood pressure!
Skea also weaves into her story broader issues of morality, science vs superstition, loyalty and justice. This is a must read for all lovers of historical fiction, and I think Skea’s writing is comparable to that of Phillipa Gregory and Diana Gabaldon. I’m hooked and looking forward to reading the next in the series.
About the author (from Amazon)
Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’, but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. Awarded the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014 and Historical Fiction Winner in the Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition for her debut novel Turn of the Tide, the sequel A House Divided was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2016. The third book in the series will be published in autumn 2017. She is passionate about well-researched, authentic historical fiction and providing a ‘you are there’ experience for the reader.
You can find Margaret Skea
on Twitter: @margaretskea1
at the Scottish Book Trust: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/profile-author/105036
on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/margaret.skea
and you can find all her books on Amazon: