Title: The Darkest Shore
Author: Karen Brooks
Published: February 24th 2020
Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
The independent women of Scotland stand up to a witch hunt, male fury and the power of the Church in a battle for survival in this compelling historical novel based on true events in early eighteenth century Scotland.
1703: The wild east coast of Scotland.
Returning to her home town of Pittenweem, fishwife and widow Sorcha McIntyre knows she faces both censure and mistrust. After all, this is a country where myth and legend are woven into the fabric of the everyday, a time when those who defy custom like Sorcha has are called to account.
It is dangerous to be a clever woman who ‘doesn’t know her place’ in Pittenweem – a town rife with superstition. So, when a young local falls victim to witchcraft, the Reverend Cowper and the townsfolk know who to blame. What follows for Sorcha and her friends is a terrifying battle, not only for their souls, but for their lives, as they are pitted against the villagers’ fear, a malevolent man and the might of the church.
Based on the shocking true story of the witch hunt of Pittenweem, this multi-layered novel is a beautifully written historical tale of the strength of women united against a common foe, by one of Australia’s finest writers.
‘Wasn’t that what the fishwives were? Sisters of the sea.’Twas the sea and its siren call and the men whom they cleaved that made the sisters of all the fishwives, regardless of who their mothers were, where they hailed from, and whether their husbands, fathers or brothers were alive or dead. Once a fishwife, always a fishwife.’
Sometimes history turns dark corners. In The Darkest Shore, the latest novel from Karen Books, a group of women rebel against a harsh system and they pay a hefty price. Their story is moving, tragic, frustrating and inspiring. The Darkest Shore is yet another triumph from historical specialist Karen Brooks.
The Darkest Shore is a rich and multi layered story that takes the reader back in time to Scotland in the eighteenth century. In the coastal region of Pittenweem, we meet Sorcha McIntyre, a widow and a hardworking fishwife. Fighting for everyday survival and living independently, Sorcha is vulnerable to suspicion. With myths, legends and conspiracies dominating societal norms, it is an incredibly dangerous time to be a woman, especially a single woman. Sorcha knows she is different, some may consider her highly spirited, but this gets her into trouble. When rumors of witchcraft begin to circulate around the community of Pittenweem, victims are claimed. With a local reverend leading the charge, this tyrannical leader and his townsfolk rally together in their mission to stamp out any form of superstition brought about by witchcraft in their community. This is a harrowing and fearful time to be a fishwife and a member of the Pittenweem township. The Darkest Shore charts this fascinating, but grim time in our past.
A historically alluring and utterly engrossing read, The Darkest Shore plunges the reader in a well-heeled story of female independence, friendship, support networks, injustice and deep fear. Although it took me two attempts to read this novel from cover to cover (I wasn’t in the right mindset the first time I picked up the book), it definitely paid to persist. I was rewarded with a complex and convoluted story, which unfurled beautifully as I was immersed in the world of a common fishwife in eighteenth century Scotland. What a remarkable place and turning point in history!
Our guide for the breadth of The Darkest Shore is Sorcha McIntyre. We learn that Sorcha is a widow and a woman who works hard to make ends meet. Sorcha has the support of the other local fishwives in her community and she is an interesting soul. When one Pittenweem local is taken under suspicion for witchcraft by the local clergy, it sets in motion further suspicion, arrests and trials. These areas of the book are relayed by Brooks with vivid clarity. It proved to me that it was clearly a very dangerous time to be a woman, especially a woman with any kind of spirit. The sense of male power, the influence of religious beliefs, injustice and hardship is felt on all levels. This is an emotional sojourn and at times is hard to keep your feelings intact. However, the storytelling is simply marvelous, despite the sometimes bleak subject matter.
There are many resounding themes that gravitate around this set piece. From witchcraft, to life in 18th century Scotland, rules, norms, fables, myths, superstitions, economics, politics, religion, marriage and love practices are pulled apart by Brooks. The Darkest Shore proved to be an eye opening read. What struck me the most about this novel was the research base. Brooks’ Author’s Note, which extends over twelve pages, along with a glossary and a list of characters adds to the strong credibility of this novel. It also provides the reader with a sense of the sheer dedication the author has demonstrated to ensure that her book is historically precise. I found the Author’s Note almost as fascinating as the story itself, what a full and involving journey Karen Brooks has embarked upon to faithfully bring this story life. The helpful character list assists the reader in their journey through Pittenweem. While the glossary of terms, along with the Scottish vernacular inserted within the book contributes to the authenticity level of The Darkest Shore.
I studied witchcraft practices in Europe during my university studies and the opportunity to revisit this fascinating, but deadly time in our history books was a welcome experience. I feel I gleaned much more about the world of witchcraft, cultural norms and local superstition thanks to the excellent penmanship of Karen Brooks. With her innate ability to conjure up heartbreaking tales of the past, with a focus on the female experience, I wonder what Karen Brooks will be presenting her readers with next? I can’t wait!
The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks was published on 24th February 2020 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Darkest Shore, Karen Brooks, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Darkest Shore is book #66 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge