4.5 out of 5 stars
On Amazon UK
How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.
In A Nutshell: historical and romantic fiction set in mid-18th century Scotland and Pennsylvania.
I very much liked Ailish Sinclair's debut novel, The Mermaid and the Bear, so was looking forward to this, and I was pleased to see it's about the same family, a couple of generations on - this time the main character is Elizabeth Manteith, whose family is going through difficult times. Her father is caught up with the Jacobite rebellion, and Beth spends most of her time with the servants.
A ghastly accident of circumstance leads to her being imprisoned on an Aberdeen slave ship, taking children and young people to the tobacco plantations of North America. A round of applause to Ms Sinclair for using fiction to highlight little-known history - I knew nothing about this. Once in America Beth's life remains hard, though not as hard as one might have feared for her. She longs for word from home, and strives to find out the location of Peter, a boy she became close to on the ship.
Beth is an engaging character, as is Michael, in whose house she works. I'm not a romance reader (not least of all because I always know exactly who is going to end up with whom, as soon as they meet!), but in this book the romance aspect is subtly threaded through the main story, an undercurrent rather than centre stage. I loved reading about life in the mid 18th century; it's a very 'easy read', just flows along, while being quite a page-turner. I enjoyed the whole book; the pace is just right and there were no boring bits!
Ms Sinclair has chosen to write Beth's first-person narrative in Scottish dialect. Normally this would drive me nuts, but the way she has executed this is perfect for the book, absolutely right. She concentrates on the Scottish words Beth would use ('dinna' rather than 'didn't', 'fit' rather than 'what', for instance) rather than trying to write dialogue in a Scottish accent, which would have been tedious in extreme - from the beginning, I found myself reading it in Beth's voice.
I was most interested to read, in the Author's Notes at the back, that not only was it based on a true occurrence, but some of the characters are based on real people. This always adds a pleasing dimension to a story.
It's a well-researched and delightful book, as was the last one. The only reason I've given it 4.5 rather than 5* is that I tend to like books that are a bit darker than this, but that's only personal preference, not a criticism. It's a story to curl up and escape with. A definite recommendation, and I look forward to the next.