Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea

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Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Set against the backdrop of a 16th century Scottish clan feud, this is a wonderful novel of blood, dirt, political manipulation and the cost to a family when one man struggles against the tide.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 398 Date: November 2012
Publisher: Capercaillie Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1909305069

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Family and clan count in 16th century Scotland as Munro discovers. His allegiance lies with the Clan Cunninghame and therefore he's involved in their bloody feud with the Montgomeries. It should be straightforward but sometimes feelings don't run along genealogical lines and loyalties are torn. Munro's wife Kate finds this as difficult to live with, sharing the hardships of a life on the edge whilst trying to protect their children. Unfortunately the Cunninghames' victory at the Annock massacre has created greater problems than it solved and no one knows which side fate will eventually favour. Meanwhile King James' presence creates a temporary respite, but revenge can't be side-lined forever.

Margaret Skea's fascination with Scottish history led to a move from her native Ulster to the Scottish borders and armfuls of literary accolades. The one that stands out should itself win an award for the longest name. I mean, of course (deep breath!) Historical Fiction Winner in 2011 Harper Collins and Alan Titchmarsh People's Novelist Competition.

The first thing you'll notice at the beginning of the book is the cast of characters. You'll need it. Please don't do what I did and spend 70 pages assuming you'll get your head around the names and sides without. It seems simple to begin with. There are Montgomeries on one side and Cunninghames on the other. Then you realise that the clan chiefs of the Cunninghames and Montgomeries don't have that as a surname. Then you meet the Cunninghames who are married to Montgomeries… Trust me; jotting down a simple list of names with arrows showing cross-loyalties makes all the difference. When I re-read those first 70 pages, diagram in hand, my crinkled confusion vanished, allowing the story to take control, and what a story Margaret weaves.

It starts with raw brutal warfare (a couple of 'look-away' moments for the squeamish there) and then, post-massacre, the rivalry turns from the mainly physical to the mainly political as the two factions vie for the monarch's approval, amusingly like children fighting for parental attention. Munro is the voice of reason, pleading for good sense but being swept away by the culture and customs that entrap him. The author also captures the tone and feel of a group of men together, bound by the aroma of testosterone. When they're around women this tone changes completely, the feminine influence seeping into the very prose. Talking of the women…

Kate Munro is intelligent and feisty, yearning for a man's opportunities. It can be argued that she's a stereotypical 21st century woman in historic clothing. However, I feel that each era has had its feminists so, to me, she's historically realistic with humanly wistful. In fact, although a man's chattel, each woman in Tide has the ability/strength to forge a space within that society's expectations while challenging our idea of insipid historical submission. Elizabeth is brave enough to remain a faithful friend across clan barriers, handmaiden Sybilla promises herself that she'll walk away if abused cruelly by the spoilt William and even Munro's mother, Mary, remains strong, wise and defiant through crippling health.

Margaret Skea's style is more down-in-the-dirt than that of Diana Gabaldon and just as meticulously researched as Philippa Gregory. For instance, it may be a culturally cringe-worthy reason now, but then it was perfectly acceptable for monarchy to take a black dance troupe to Norway because they'd be more visible preforming in snow. Some things remain constant though, e.g. it's refreshing to read that accommodation was always exorbitantly priced during festival time in Edinburgh.

Once the adventure gains momentum, we're willingly dragged along. It's touching, fierce and surprising with a sprinkling of humour. In all it evokes a sense of gratitude that we don't live with such gang rivalries any more. But there again, a glance at a newspaper may lead us to think otherwise.

If you've enjoyed this and would like to read more about the feuding and fighting in Scotland, we recommend Corrag by Susan Fletcher.

Buy Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea at Amazon.com.


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