Genre: Historical Romance (Regency 1822-1824, Epilogue 1872)
A romantic tale of young love and old Edinburgh from the pen of a consummate storyteller and acclaimed Scottish historian.
It’s 1822 and Scotland’s capital is a city of both splendour and squalor. Kate Dunbar is worked like a slave all day and preyed upon at night in the gloomy vaults that lurk under the Old Town’s South Bridge but never gives up hope of a better life for herself and her beloved young brother Andrew.
When wealthy young medical student Richard Hope walks into her life, Kate knows that his interest in her could lead them both into danger. Yet it’s not long before the two of them have fallen head-over-heels in love.
Others are watching the young lovers. Radical booksellers Peggy and Nathaniel Henderson have Kate and Andrew’s best interests at heart. Their greedy and grasping uncle doesn’t, and he soon soon starts laying his own evil plans.
Kate and Richard’s passionate and poignant romance intertwines with the richly-imagined colour and pageantry of King George IV’s historic visit to Edinburgh in 1822, and culminates in the heart-stopping drama of the Great Fire of Edinburgh of 1824.
Can their love affair have a happy ending or will fate, the evil that threatens them and the rigid rules of class and society allow them only one sweet moment of happiness?
How do I to begin to review one of the loveliest and most compellingly written books it has been my pleasure to experience?
I listened to the audio version, narrated by Lesley Mackie, who has the most melodious voice. A Scott herself, her narration is perfectly pitched and cleverly vocalised so that the listener is never in any doubt which character is talking at any given time. There is a lot of the Scottish vernacular used and this adds depth and great feeling, as well as showing the difference in class of the wonderful mix of characters. Ms Mackie differentiates expertly between male and female, rich and poor alike, and it is a very professional performance indeed.
The story begins with a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson:
“To look over the South Bridge and to see the Cowgate below, full of crying hawkers is to view one rank of society from another in the twinkling of an eye”
which pretty much sums up the difference in the class structure of the time.
The title One Sweet Moment and also the brief synopsis suggest just another love story. I don’t mean this in any derogatory sense but, as a lover of history as well as a finely written romance, I was delighted to find that this wonderful book was so much more than was suggested; in fact, it’s depth and content is greatly underplayed.
This was my first Maggie Craig novel and it was purely by chance that I discovered it on ITunes for audio download. I thought it might be a nice book to listen to whilst out walking, but instead found myself ignoring everyone and grabbing every moment I could to devour this thoughtful and beautifully moving story. It’s written by a lady who obviously knows her stuff – the history of Scotland, Edinburgh and the people of that city.
The book (with a perfect epilogue which winds the story up in the most poignant way) spans approximately 50 years. It is the story of Kate Dunbar, a brave and defiant young woman of the lowest orders, living in abject poverty in the vaults of Edinburgh’s South Bridge with her young physically handicapped brother Andrew. Orphaned and at the mercy of their maternal Aunt and her vile husband, they accept and live in the most degrading manner, with little chance of escape from the daily, tyrannical and abusive behaviour doled out by this uncaring and evil pair.
One evening into the Pearl Fisher, the Oyster Bar kept by Kate’s Aunt and Uncle and where she is obliged to work without payment, come three young privileged medical students, one of whom is immediately attracted to Kate. Richard Hope, handsome and wealthy, is as far outside Kate’s world as it is possible to be. His family is rich and well connected but still he persists in gaining an acquaintance with her. He finds his intentions are entirely honourable and he treats Kate and the other occupants of the vaults with respect and eventually she comes to like and love him, and he her.
This is a time of radical political stirrings. It is only 70 years since the great Jacobean uprising. The people of Edinburgh are split in their views, some wishing for independence and Kate has some such friends. Richard becomes embroiled with Kate’s champions, book shop owners Nathaniel and Peggy Henderson, and finds himself looking at the poorer inhabitants of Edinburgh from a different, and more sympathetic perspective.
This is such a wonderfully meaty book, full of intrigue, romance, abuse of the worse kind and body snatching. The Edinburgh of the time, beautiful but also poverty stricken, is captured in this magical tale. Maggie Craig is a consummate story teller; her extensive research and love of her homeland and its people are obvious. Her prose flows with twists and turns and captures the imagination. I hated the villains and desperately wanted Kate and Richard to find their happy ending. As I have said previously, this tale was so much more than ‘just a love story‘. It is a must read for all HR lovers and for anyone who loves a wonderfully compelling story.
This was one of those ‘let’s buy it, it’s cheap and sounds intriguing‘ purchases but Maggie Craig is now one of my top five authors. This is a definite keeper for me.
I later went on to read Gathering Storm, which is another absolutely superb historical set in Edinburgh during the time of the Jacobean uprising – not to be missed for lovers of history.
MY VERDICT: A beautiful and compelling love story. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STELLAR STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: WARM
Footnote: The author has recently commented “Fair chuffed to discover that Edinburgh City Libraries have added One Sweet Moment to their literary map of books set in the City”….I’m personally not surprised, well deserved! And earlier this year I visited Edinburgh and followed her trail…a clever author/historian who can make a place and people so real.