Eleven years on from the Massacre of Annock, the Cunninghame / Montgomerie truce is fragile.
For the Munro family, living in hiding under assumed names, these are dangerous times.
While Munro risks his life daily in the service of the French King, the spectre of discovery by William Cunninghame haunts his wife Kate. Her fears for their children and her absent husband realized as William’s desire for revenge tears their world apart.
Following on from Turn Of The Tide, A House Divided picks up the story of the Munro family several years after they were forced to fake their own deaths in a fire at their home, in order to escape the machinations of William Cunninghame, heir to the Earl of Glencairn.
Munro is now fighting with the Scots Gardes in the service of the French King at Amiens, while Kate and the children are living under the protection of Elizabeth and Hugh Mongomerie at Braidstane. Kate has changed her family’s name to Grant as a further safety measure, as her reputation as a healer midwife and wise woman spreads. The Cunninghame/Montgomerie feud, although dormant for the time being, still smoulders and it would take little to fan the flames.
Kate is called to minister to Margaret Maxwell, wife of Patrick, who is a supporter of the Cunninghames and friend to William. Margaret is physically abused by her husband and although it places Kate in danger should Maxwell recognise her, she couldn’t refuse her help. An unlucky chance brings Kate and her daughter, Maggie, into contact with Maxwell, who notices something familiar about them.
‘The wise woman from. From Irvine. She had the sound of Kate Munro.’
‘Kate Munro is dead these six years, with her lout of a husband and the brats.’ William licked his lips as if in pleasure at the memory. ‘All courtesy of reivers. Saved us the bother and the repercussions. Though,’ it was as if something tugged at William’s memory also, ‘they did have a bairn, red-headed and feisty. She was but a wee bit thing when I saw here,’ he rubbed at his shin with his boot, ‘and though with a temper to match her hair, I had room to regret her passing.’
‘A sister, or cousin perhaps?’ Maxwell was worrying at the thought like a dog with a bone, unwilling to give it up, unaware of William’s increasing irritation, which had sobered him sufficiently to follow Maxwell’s train of thought.
When Kate is summoned to Edinburgh at the behest of King James to attend Queen Anne, who has suffered several miscarriages and wants to take all the precautions and advice she can with her latest pregnancy. Unfortunately for Kate, she can’t refuse and the danger of being seen by Maxwell or William is very real. She has allies in John Shaw, Alexander and Hugh Montgomerie and John Cunninghame who, although he is William’s uncle, despises the fact. And certainly not least, she has the ear of the Queen. But will this be enough to keep her safe?
Margaret Skea skilfully weaves fact and fiction together to create a complex, credible and fascinating story, without glossing over the more harrowing aspects of life in the late 16th century. Balancing the cruelty and betrayals, is kindness, courage and loyalty. Nevertheless it’s a dangerous time, rife with intrigue and revenge fuelled by hatred. Plenty twists and enough activity between events in Ayrshire and Edinburgh keep up the tension and suspense in this compelling storyline.
A House Divided is a seamless continuation of a comprehensive saga which includes Scottish history, the Witch Hunt of 1597 and the French Wars of Religion. Very well paced and extremely well written, with settings and lifestyle as vivid as the believable and well defined characters. The final chapters couldn’t be more atmospheric and grim, building to a terrifying and dramatic conclusion. Recommended for those who enjoy a historical fact/fiction mix.
I chose to read and review A House Dividedfor Rosie Amber’s book review team, based on a digital copy from the author/publisher.
Margaret Skea grew up in Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’, but now lives in Scotland. Her passion is for authentic, atmospheric fiction, whether historical or contemporary. An award-winning novelist and short story writer, her credits include: The Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best 1st Time Novelist 2014 (Turn of the Tide), andlonglist in the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2016 (A House Divided). These novels are the first two in a series of Scottish historical fiction following the fortunes of a fictional family trapped in real events in the 16th century. Her short stories have won or been placed in many competitions, including: Fish, Mslexia, Winchester, Rubery and Neil Gunn.
She is now back to working on the third novel in her Scottish series and hopes to have it and the conclusion of Katharina’s story out next year.