Nelly Harper’s second historical novel cements her reputation as an expert world-builder, recreating rural life and society in the far north of Britain during the era of Viking invasions.
I very much enjoyed following this story which first describes healer Oonagh enjoying a peaceful young adulthood in her native Pictish village. After falling foul of Norse invaders, she flees her Pict village to hide in plain sight amongst Viking settlers in Orkney. Her daughter Bethoc seeks retribution when her mother is wronged and she herself is betrayed by the Norse. So begins another dangerous journey and an arduous quest. (If that sounds enigmatic, it’s because I’m trying to avoid spoiling the plot!)
A Book of Three Acts?
The first part of the the book focuses on Oongah, the second on Bethoc, and the third, in a different location, on a much larger cast of characters. (Careful wording again here!) I enjoyed the first two parts the most, which create a sensitive and moving relationship between mother and daughter faced by adversity. The pace changes in the third part. I wonder whether it might have been worth separating the book formally into those three parts – Oonagh’s story, Bethoc’s story and the clan’s (?) story, or perhaps using the three locations to head each one. That would alert readers to expect that story shape, and the shift of place and tone, but that’s only my personal feeling – others may not agree (especially the author!)
Appealing to Three Kinds of Readers
- Historians – Anyone interested in the Dark Ages in what is now Scotland would find this a particularly riveting and rewarding read, densely packed with historical detail without it ever intruding on the plot or the flow of the story.
- Nature lovers – The detailed descriptions of the local environment would also delight naturalists, walkers and conservationists.
- Romance readers – But on a more universal level, it’s also a rewarding tale of love, loss and renewal, as relevant in the modern age as in the era it describes.
For more information about Nelly Harper and her other books, visit her website: www.nellyharper.co.uk