Author: Margaret Skea
- Published: September 2015 (2nd Edition) by Sanderling
- Category: Scottish Historical Fact/Fiction
Old rivalries…new friendships…dangerous decisions.
Set in 16th Century Scotland Munro owes allegiance to the Cunninghames and to the Earl of Glencairn. Trapped in the 150-year-old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, he escapes the bloody aftermath of an ambush, but he cannot escape the disdain of the wife he sought to protect, or his own internal conflict.
Initially, I wasn’t too sure about this book. There are a lot of characters, and their allegiances, to keep track of, which I found it a little confusing at first. Writing them down as a quick reference helped as it’s not so easy to keep referring back on a kindle. The more I read, the easier it became and the story took hold. Set in Ayrshire in the sixteenth century it tells of a notorious feud that lasted almost two centuries, between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames. In the middle of these two warring clans is Munro and his family. Munro owes his loyalty to the Cunninghames, even as he is ever more uncomfortable with their actions and behaviour, and his understandable failure to comprehend the reasoning behind the feud.
After an ambush and horrific massacre, not to mention several terrible retaliations, the two families are charged by King James VI to publicly declare a truce and with members of each family vying for the King’s favour, it’s not long before tensions erupt again. Munro escapes retribution for his part in the ambush but his conscience, his wife and his gradual friendship with several Montgomeries, make him reassess his priorities, regardless of the fact his association with the rival clan would be condemned out of hand by certain members of the Cunninghames.
James took the proffered parchment and laid it on the table in front of him. He beckoned to Robert Montgomerie and Glencairn. Robert stepped sideways and ushering forward the men directly behind him, presented them to James….
‘It is our wish that you shall solemnly affirm, before God and this company as witnesses, to abjure any violence between you, your families, or followers from this time forth,’ James gestured to the parchment that Maitland had unrolled, his voice round and full-bellied as the best French brandy. ‘Yet words are easy spoken and as easily forgot. I have had Maitland prepare Letters of Affirmation. A signature can hardly be denied.’
The story is firmly rooted in the time and place by skilful, descriptive writing and evocative dialogue. It’s a complex tale of politics and intrigue, with basically one main, and despicable, miscreant – William Cunninghame, Glencairn’s heir. Despite the truce, he has no intention of even attempting to keep the peace. He is vicious, overbearing and completely intolerant of perceived slights, as Munro’s family learn to their cost. Anyone who offends him is in a very precarious position.
It’s a harsh and dangerous time, when hatred and revenge is rife. Munro walks a fine line between the two families, always having to be on the alert while just wishing to live his life quietly, at home with his wife and children. Always conscious of the choices he makes, and the resulting actions, as to how they might affect his family. This is shown extremely well by the vast chasm between daily family life on the farm and the conflicting violence and tragedy.
Margaret Skea creates a good balance between fact and fiction, blending both seamlessly. Munro especially stands out, and initially it was his character that helped draw me into the story, which, to all appearances is a convincing and representational account. The characters, both real and fictional, are well defined and believable and the story well crafted – I can only imagine the depth of research this took. I love the tense build up to a very unexpected ending.
I chose to read and review Turn of the Tide for Rosie Amber’s book review team, based on a digital copy from the author.
About Margaret Skea
An interest in Scotland’s turbulent history, and in particular the 16th century, combined with PhD research into the Ulster-Scots vernacular, led to the writing of Turn of the Tide, which was the Historical Fiction Winner in the 2011 Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014.
A Hawthornden Fellow and award winning short story writer – her recent credits include, Overall Winner Neil Gunn 2011, Chrysalis Prize 2010, and Winchester Short Story Prize 2009. Third in the Rubery Book Award Short Story Competition 2013, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society Short Story Competition 2012, shortlisted in the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2012 and long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Short Story competition 2014, the Matthew Pritchard Award, the Fish Short Story and Fish One Page Prize, she has been published in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and the USA.
New collection of short stories – including some those from competitions mentioned above is available now.