Thursday 30 April 2020

Book Review: THE DARKEST SHORE by Karen Brooks

Author: Karen Brooks
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Read: April 2020
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

“Above all, THE DARKEST SHORE is a love-letter to the fishwives and all other ‘wicked women’ out there, a tribute to strong, resourceful women whose boldness and courage, and that of their families and the men who stand by them, is cause for wonder, celebration and commemoration.” Karen Brooks about her book THE DARKEST SHORE

Book Description:

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.

My musings:

If you like books featuring courageous and strong female characters, then look no further. Karen Brooks’ love-letter to the fishwives, who feature prominently in this story – some based on real life characters and some who have sprung from the author’s own imagination – tells of a frightening and yet compelling episode in Scottish history: the Pittenweem witch trials. Set in the small fishing village of Pittenweem on the east coast of Scotland, the story centres around real life events that took part there in 1704, when five local women were accused of witchcraft, and another two women and a man named as accomplices as the result of a story told by a teenage boy. The events that follow will chill you to the core. It is a sign of Brooks’ talent as a writer that she was able to take dry facts gleamed from history books and spun them into a rich tale of courage and solidarity, as her brave fishwives face their accusers and battle to stay alive.

THE DARKEST SHORE brims with richly drawn, well-rounded characters that instantly transported me into 18th century Scotland. I love nothing better than an atmospheric setting, and the books delivered this in spades. As soon as I met the group of fishwives, those brave, fearless women who are as resourceful as they are resilient in the absence of their men at sea, and who look out for one another even if it puts their own lives in danger, I was fully invested in their fates. It is no surprise then that I also took an instant dislike to the minister at the heart of the crisis, a narcissistic fanatic, who unfortunately wields a great deal of power in the village. Let one of the fishwife’s own words speak for themselves:

“Do you hear that, God? You have chosen poorly, Sir, and need to rethink whom you allow to speak on your behalf. They’re letting you down, these men. They pretend a consideration they don’t feel; they lie and cheat and call it your will.”

They are not easily cowered, those fishwives, so it is easy to see how they posed a threat to the social order at the time, especially to the men of the cloth, the religious leaders who imposed strict rules on villages and exerted a massive amount of power. If Brooks thinks of the fishwives as “life-affirming and bold” (in her own words), then she really managed to let these qualities shine through in her characters.


In summary, THE DARKEST SHORE is a story that not only tells of a dark but fascinating chapter in Scottish history, but also offers us a glimpse into the lives of Scottish fishwives, a bunch of strong, courageous and independent women who are true role models for women everywhere. With such a rich cast of strong and intriguing characters and an atmospheric Scottish setting that made the perfect backdrop for a thrilling and chilling read, the book was a pleasure to read from beginning to end. One of the most intriguing and well researched historical fiction books I have read. Highly recommended!

Thank you to HQ Fiction for the free copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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