Genre: Historical Romance (18th Century – 1743)
Jacobite Intrigue and Romance in 18th Century Edinburgh.
Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743, and Redcoat officer Robert Catto would rather be anywhere else on earth than Scotland. Seconded back from the wars in Europe to captain the city’s Town Guard, he fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.
Christian Rankeillor, her surgeon-apothecary father and his apprentice Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon are committed supporters of the Stuart Cause. They’re hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, a hanging offence.
Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by the mysterious death of a young prostitute and their desire to help fugitive brother and sister Geordie and Alice Smart. They’re on the run from Cosmo Liddell, bored and brutal aristocrat and coal owner.
As they pick their way through a labyrinth of intrigue, Robert and Kirsty are increasingly drawn to each other. She knows their mutual attraction can go nowhere. He know his duty demands that he must betray her.
Bringing to life a time when Scotland stood at a crossroads in her history, Gathering Storm is the first in a suite of Jacobite novels by Scottish writer Maggie Craig, author of the ground-breaking and acclaimed Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45.
I loved this magnificent, fast paced, brilliantly researched novel of 18th century Edinburgh. Full of political intrigue, conspiracy, deception, murder and even secret dissections, it’s darkly creepy and fascinating but with a touch of spine tingling romance.
This is a story about people believing themselves to be in the right of it; the Jacobites determined to win independence for Scotland, no matter the cost, committed supporters of the Stuart cause and their opponents, the soldiers and politicians of the English crown, equally resolute and tenacious.
Ms.Craig begins with a bang. I could hear the click of boots on the cobbled streets as the soldiers march through the echoey, empty, dank and dark roadway.
“Robert Catto swept out through the Bristol Port and wheeled left. Adjusting his steadying grip on the hilt of his sword, he proceeded to cover the newly-cobbled causeway behind Edinburgh University at a fast and loping stride.”…and…”Bringing his right hand up to the side of his head, he splayed his long fingers so everyone would be sure of seeing the signal to stop. As he came to a graceful halt, spinning round on the balls of his feet to face the men, the soft folds of his cloak billowed out around him.”
These opening sentences completely set the scene for what is to follow. Redcoat officer, Captain Robert Catto of the despised Town Guard, is on a mission. He has been summoned from front line duty in Europe and promoted to Captain by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President. Culloden is a humane and honourable man whose only agenda is the peace and prosperity of his beloved Scotland. He has seconded Robert Catto to carry out a covert mission – to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat under the auspices of Captain of the Town Guard.
Much of the intrigue is centred around Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary where Christian (Kirsty) Rankeillor lives and works with her father, a much respected Professor, surgeon and apothecary. They are Jacobite sympathisers along with Professor Rankeillor’s apprentice, Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon. Robert Catto is aware that unlawful dissections are taking place in the dead of night in the Infirmary. He uses this knowledge as a cover to enter and search the premises, frightening the women of the Rankeillor household in the process. Finding evidence of a clandestine meeting, Robert suspects Christian and her father of hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head, and is duty bound to root out this traitor to the crown.
The story proceeds with Robert and Kirsty aware of a growing and unwanted attraction between them but on opposing sides, each determined to succeed; Kirsty to help the agent to escape and Robert to stop this happening at all costs. I love Robert’s character…honourable and charismatic, but entirely human, no chocolate box hero. Kirsty is a feisty, loyal and beautiful young woman but unusual in that she has been treated as an equal by her father and is not afraid of the dead or the dissecting of them for medical science. Their growing love for each other is apparent, but does not overshadow the serious subject, that of Scotland at a crossroads in her history – a time for action, one side wishing to throw her into civil war, the other to avoid this if at all possible.
There are many twists and turns with the death of a young prostitute, bestial behaviour by some of Edinburgh’s young and wealthy spoilt aristocrats, political intrigue and clandestine meetings. All combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing, and fascinating story. Maggie Craig is a historian of repute as well as a talented writer and her meticulous research and love of her homeland clearly shows. I have recently completed the first two Outlander novels and it’s difficult not to compare the two writers. The fact that Gathering Storm has been written by a Scot, who knows her subject by simply living and breathing it, is obvious. Even the language used could only have been written by someone in the habit of using and hearing this vernacular every day…loved it.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series and I’m hopeful that Maggie Craig can also persuade her publisher to employ the fabulous actor, Lesley Mackie, to narrate this powerful tale as she did with her poignant and beautiful novel, One Sweet Moment. Gathering Storm with its evocative and turbulent background set in 18th century Edinburgh, would benefit from Ms Mackie’s intuitive and talented reading of it – a dream team indeed.
Footnote: added 8 June 2015
Having just listened to the newly released audio version read by James Bryce, I loved it all over again. In the end, it was decided that a male Scottish actor would do justice to the myriad of characters in this wonderful feast of a novel. Maggie Craig’s stunning story is vividly brought to life by this talented actor, who interprets perfectly the many nuances of the Scottish language.
I was at first unsure that Mr. Bryce could do justice to the delectable Robert Catto and, if I have a criticism, it is that James Bryce does not have a youthful enough voice for Robert Catto. Nevertheless, Maggie Craig’s story is so wonderful that I lost myself in the story and forgot all about my reservations over Bryce’s portrayal of Catto. At first, the young officer comes across as an unfeeling, cynical, sarcastic man who puts duty over all else. However, by degrees his softer side and his conscience emerge and his interaction with Kirsty Rankeillor and his wee cook boy, Geordie, shows his softer side and this is expertly captured by James Bryce.
Ms.Craig’s admiration for Duncan Forbes of Culloden is evident in her portrayal of him and James Bryce’s representation of him captures this admiration. His deep, cultured voice with its Scottish intones is immediately recognisable – without the necessity for explanation – in his clandestine dealings with Captain Catto. As for the female members of Professor Rankeillor’s household – well the housekeeper is just hilarious! Bryce brings to mind a fussy, bossy little bantam hen. The depiction of the drawling, supercilious, spoilt Cosmo Liddell, one of Edinburgh’s dissolute elite, is impressive and the members of the town guard, with their mixture of accents, from the highlands to the lowlands, young and old alike, is perfection. But one of the real highlights for me was when the Professor, in a flashback, was explaining the facts of life to an eleven-year-old, motherless Kirsty… poignantly sad but sweetly funny at the same time.
MY VERDICT: I’ve said it above, but I really cannot wait for the next book in this fascinating series. 5 mega stars! Can you tell how much I loved it?
REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: WARM
Read November 2014