Sunday, 23 March 2014

Gathering Storm by Maggie Craig

Reviewed by Chris Longmuir

Edinburgh in 1743 is a dangerous place, and Maggie Craig does not shy away from the scheming and brutality of some of its residents.

We first meet the main character, Captain Robert Catto, as he leads his town guard on a raid of Surgeons’ Hall, where they expect to find an illegal dissection in progress. I particularly liked the description of the Town Guard as “A Pack of wolves metamorphosing into men”. Captain Catto may have his sword, but the men are highlanders carrying Lochaber axes.

Captain Catto presents as a brutal man, insensitive to the fear and pain he imposes on the household of the surgeon-apothecary, in particular, the daughter of the house, Christian Rankeillor. But, as the book progresses he turns out to be a much more complex character than he initially appears.

Christian, on the other hand, comes across as a caring and intelligent woman, unusual for the time and place. But she is pulled into the Jacobite conspiracy, and as a result comes into conflict with Captain Catto.

At first, because of the opening raid on Surgeons’ Hall, I thought this was going to be a resurrectionist novel, with themes of grave-robbing and dissections. However, the main theme surfaced as a Jacobite rebellion one, with conspiracy, spies, and murder. Oh, and a little romance thrown in as well.

The historical background is well depicted, and the poverty and despair of the ordinary people is realistic enough to make the reader shudder. The abuse, rape, and murder of working class women, is of little consequence to their oppressors who are of more noble birth.

This book kept me guessing right up to the end. I could not see how the electric spark of attraction between Christian and Catto could ever be resolved given the extreme nature of their differences. And I’m not going to tell you whether it was resolved because that would be too much of a spoiler.

I enjoyed this book very much because of the historical accuracy, the political aspects, and it was a rattling good story.

Chris Longmuir

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