I bring you a book by an author I’ve been intrigued by for a very long time, because of the many fans she has on Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I finally got to read one of her books. It was quite an experience.
SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Ailish Sinclair
When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land.
What she does next constitutes a huge betrayal of her people, threatening her closest relationships and even her way of life itself.
As the conflict between the Caledonian tribes and the Roman Sons of Mars intensifies, can she use her high status in the community to lessen the coming death toll or even prevent outright war?
Set in 1st century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love.
About the author:
Ailish Sinclair trained as a dancer and taught dance for many years, before working in schools to help children with special needs. A short stint as a housekeeper in a castle fired her already keen interest in untold stories of the past and she sat down to research and write.
She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children where she still dances and writes and eats rather a lot of chocolate.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.
I have read many glowing reviews of Ailish Sinclair’s previous books, and when I saw this one, I thought it was my chance to finally get to read one of them. I must confess to not remembering the exact details when I started to read the story, and I found it a pretty unique reading experience.
Morragh, the main protagonist, doesn’t talk at the beginning of the story (we don’t know if she can’t or chooses not to), at least she doesn’t talk to other people, but she communicates with gods, animals, and can see the future, We know all that because the story is narrated in the first person, from her point of view, and that gives the story a special feel, as she doesn’t experience things as most of us do. Reality, dreams, and visions of the past and the future (her own and others’) are all one for her, and she doesn’t always know when she is being herself or when she is being inhabited by the goddess. The language is poetic, made up of impressions and abstract images, and I felt as if I was in the middle of an ancient world I didn’t know the rules of, witnessing something momentous but alien. Her relationship with her sister (Onnagh) —who is not her biological sister but rescued her from a tragic fate— is one of the strengths of the book for me. I loved the bond between these chosen sisters, because, despite their closeness, they don’t always see things the same way. There are conflicts, moments when they don’t understand each other, and moments of anger and disappointment, but, ultimately, theirs is the strongest relationship in the book, as the beautiful title indicates.
Morragh learns much during the book, about love, about men, the importance of speaking, and the trade-off of communicating and interacting with the larger community, as there is something to be gained and something to be lost by changing her ways. Ultimately, though, she does what she thinks is right and necessary, even if it doesn’t always seem wise or advisable. Being her (as we know because we are inside her head) is not easy, and that is what makes her, her decisions, and her actions, such an extraordinary character.
The description of the book contains enough details of the plot, so I won’t add too much to it. There are quiet and contemplative moments when Morragh reflects, thinks, chats to her sister and peers, meets new people… and there are also rites, battles, fleeing, tragedy, and plenty of drama for those who love action, although they are not what fans of most historical fiction would expect. This is not an objective account full of detailed descriptions of clothes, strategies, and locations, as if the reader was an observer watching everything from the sideline, but a whirlwind of impressions, thoughts, and feelings, as if one was suddenly dropped in the middle of the battle. And some of the events take on a magical and mythological quality that adds much to the story but are not the usual fare of narrowly-defined historical fiction.
I am not very familiar with Celt folklore and mythology or ancient Scottish history, so although I enjoyed the story, I was grateful for the historical note the author includes at the end of the book. It clarifies which parts of the novel are based on historical fact, giving readers the opportunity to explore that era of Scottish history further if they are interested, and it provides locations for those keen to visit Aberdeenshire. I also enjoyed her comments about the process of creating the novel. Having read it, I can easily understand why it took her so long to write and publish it. The melding of the magical, mythological, historical, fictional, and, especially, emotional elements of the story, require a special kind of talent. And plenty of time and work.
There is much pain, death, loss, and destruction in this novel, but there is also plenty of love, loyalty, a sense of community, dedication, self-sacrifice, generosity, a sense of duty… There are moments of joy and very sad moments too, but, in my opinion, the sense of wonder and hope prevails, and I loved the ending.
Here are a few fragments of the novel, although I recommend checking a sample of the book to be sure the style suits the reader’s taste.
She did not get to be a child, my dear sister. Not after she saved m. And I am so sad for this. Onnagh should have been carefree and full of joy and fun and had someone to care for her too.
We cannot go back. Not ever. And nor should we. We can learn from the past, but we must only ever create the new. Water flows ever on. As do we.
And we all change.
The small metal discs are shiny with the heads of men who have been made important on them. These are the men who play games of war and conquest. But these are not the men who will fight or die in those games. There we differ from Rome. Our leaders will be among us in the fullness of the fray. The heads on these coins? They will stay in their grand and shiny stone houses, eating the oily little fruits that I have come to love. These metal men are not in any danger.
From some of the reviews I’ve read, I understand that the book is set in the same location as some of the author’s previous novels, but not having read any of them, at times I missed having access to more standard descriptions of the places and the people who play a part in the story, but, in all fairness, I don’t think it would have suited the style of writing, which at times reminded me of stream of thought, especially when Morragh was experiencing unusual events.
I cannot compare this novel to others by the author, but I am pretty sure her fans will enjoy this story as much or even more than the previous ones, and those who are looking for a strong females protagonist, love lyrical and expressive writing styles, and favour stories with a touch of magic and ancient mythology, particularly set in Scotland, should put it on their list. They are bound to discover a new author to follow, and a protagonist they’ll never forget.
Thanks to the author, to Rosie, and to all the members of her team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading and always being there. Remember to stay safe, to do whatever makes you happy, and to always keep smiling.