It is hard to know where to begin, there were so many things I liked about “Turn of the Tide,”Margaret Skea’s debut novel about the feud between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghams set in 17th Century Scotland. I have had this one in the queue for a wee while and was grateful for the US Labor Day weekend for uninterrupted hours of reading pleasure.Set in Ayrshire, the novel opens with main character, Munro setting plans in motion for a massacre of key members of the Montgomery clan. He’s a loyal, albeit reluctant, member of the Cunningham clan who would rather be at home with his wife, bairns and farm. He carries out this mission for the Earl of Glencairn with a seed of misgiving about continuing the 100-year-old feud that grows throughout the novel.
Retribution is swift for may of those involved in the massacre, but Munro has a handy alibi and escapes harm. Still, his wife is horrified and his conscience nags him. A friendly encounter with a Montgomery makes him question further the blind loyalty to the Cunningham clan and its leader, the Earl of Glencairn. Glencairn himself may have some reasonable qualities, but William, his son and heir is a dangerous man.
Auch, I’ll no spoil it for ye! I will say that Munro’s conscience is the tide that turns, and the reasons behind it make for a captivating read.
I love that the novel shone a light on this feud, which ran for centuries in Ayrshire. King James VI and his court do feature in the novel, but they are far from the main story. It was a refreshing departure to find a 16th-17th century novel with a griping tale where royalty is on the fringe and not center stage. That said, one of the issues in the feud was which clan leader took precedence at court.
This is an emotionally gripping story about a man caught between duty and conscience at a time in history when a man’s livelihood depended upon his loyalty to family and clan –theoretically those would be aligned. While Skea could have chosen one incident to make Munro’s loyalties change, I’m glad she did not. It would have had impact, but missed the nuances, the questioning and the soul-searching Munro went through. And then of course, there was also impact (I willnae spoil it).
Skea clearly knows Ayrshire well, and writes with beautiful detail about the landscape, whether it is describing the miserable rain that can chill you to the bone, or the aconite flowers in a valley. The dialect adds richness to the characters and is judiciously used. Helpfully, there’s a glossary in the book so you can look up words like “wabbit” (no, not rabbit).