Today’s review is for the book, The Mermaid and the Bear , a book I would never have picked up on my own if I hadn’t read such an enticing review from Diana Peach’s review list. Diana’s review roped me in, having me thinking it would be similar to an Alice Hoffman book I read last year – Incantation, where the setting was back in the late 15th century, and Jews were persecuted just for existing. And in this book, it’s set in 16th century – ish, where in this story it’s Isobel who fled to safety in Scotland, when she fled England, and greed took precedence over humanity (sounds familiar?), and women were accused of being witches. So, in many ways these books are similar with the persecution theme and no doubt, I was drawn to it. I think I would describe this book genre as Historical/Mystical Fiction, being that the characters are fictional, but the setting of the times reflects accurately of what was the political crimes of the times. Once you reach the end of the book, you will learn that the story was created around three real women accused of witchcraft, written into this fictional story.
Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.
She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.
She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.
Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…
Until the past catches up with her.
Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and The Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.
My 5 Star Review:
This was a bit different of read than my usual genres, and although my genre of choice is historical fiction, I tend to shy away from books (and definitely parts) that describe violence, just as I turn my head or the channel when I see physical abuse done to a human being. I did also feel a bit slow of a pace to where it was going for almost half the book, but felt invested in the protagonist Isobel who’d escaped from London by ship, fleeing to Scotland away from an arranged marriage with a bad man.
Isobel and her brother Jasper and his friend Ian, all end up living at and working for the Laird in his castle, and like most fairytales, we’re interested in the eventual attraction between Isobel and Laird Thomas Monteith. Now, I’ll stop here because this is where the plot “thickens”, shortly after the romance grows to marriage, halfway thru the book, it takes a wild 180 with action. But when Isobel’s past comes back to bite her, sign of the times – burning ‘accused’ witches at the stake was a popular sport in those days for greedy and abusive men who led the Aberdeen witch trials, the tension builds as some of the scenes become disturbing.
The story was beautifully written, no matter how I couldn’t tolerate the abusive parts, and I may have skipped over a few painful descriptions. Also characters spoke with their Scottish tongue which was interesting and easy to translate in context. With Isobel working and living in the Laird’s castle, eventually sparks fly between her and the Laird, and the story heats up with the graduation of their growing love and leading to marriage just before her past catches up with her, and not only Isobel, but her past will eventually encompass and affect the lives of everyone in the castle.
This book was an engaging read and a compelling tale with wonderfully written characters who all kept me engaged and feeling all the emotions each and every character were experiencing in this Scottish saga. If you enjoy historical fiction blended with romance and suspense with a slice of witch trials, you are sure to enjoy this book.