Simon & Schuster AUS
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher
Jesse Marley has just discovered that her whole childhood was a lie. When getting a passport to surprise her parents, she hit a roadblock which led to her parents confessing that in fact, she was adopted. Jesse was born in Scotland, adopted as a baby and then her parents emigrated to Australia. Absolutely stunned by this revelation she packs her bags and leaves for England, determined to travel to the place of her birth in Scotland and find her mother and find out what she can about the circumstances of her birth and adoption. She arrives just prior to the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Diana Spencer in 1981 and all of England is in a jubilant mood. Except Jesse.
When she is knocked down in the street by a motorbike, she displays some unusual behaviour whilst recuperating, drawing pictures of places she’s never been and people from a time long ago. Her neurologist, Dr Rory Brandon is fascinated, not just because he knows the place that Jesse has been drawing. He convinces her to travel north with him, to stay at Hundredfield, a Scottish stronghold built a thousand years ago by the Normans. There he will treat Jesse and perhaps unlock the mystery behind her new and unusual abilities. What Rory and Jesse will unlock whilst working together will shock them both, solve the problems of the upkeep of the thousand year old stronghold and help Jesse find where she belongs and who she is once and for all.
I love a good historical/contemporary blend and this book fits that bill perfectly. Not only is there Jesse’s story, set in 1981 in London and then Scotland but there’s also the story of Bayard in 1321. Bayard was the youngest son of the lord who held Hundredfield, a prosperous stronghold. When his father died, Bayard’s oldest brother Godefroi became lord and married the Lady Flore, a woman he found in a forest. When Bayard and his older brother Maugris return to Hundredfield from one of their frequent trips away fighting, they find that their home is much changed. The people are leaving and those that remain are distrustful and wary. Something is not quite right with the Lady Flore and Godefroi is besotted with his new bride. Bayard watches as things begin to fall apart around him and danger lurks around every corner.
Discovering the link between Jesse in 1981 and Bayard in 1321 is the beauty of this book. The setting is incredible, especially in Bayard’s time. Hundredfield is set in the north, not far from the border between Scotland and England, a harsh and unforgiving sort of place during winter and the description of the stronghold and the surrounding scenery is wonderful. Bayard was a fantastic narrator and I found myself really interested in his story – it’s such a different time and I found it all fascinating and each time we went back to Bayard I was utterly engrossed in that part of the story. I’m not entirely sure why this is but I found some of the mystery much easier to immerse myself in when it was taking place in this time rather than in the more modern day one.
Although I liked Jesse, I did find myself often a bit distracted from her part of the story after she came to Hundredfield. Whilst I enjoyed her journey in attempting to find out who she really was, tracking down her mother and the circumstances of her birth, I found some of the interactions between her, Alicia (the current owner of Hundredfield) and Rory a bit repetitive. The interactions between them were a bit odd at times, especially given what is revealed very late in the book. I found Alicia very prickly and prone to a lot of drama, but perhaps she had reason to be suspicious given she was the current owner of a property with such monetary and historical value, even if it was in need of a huge amount of work. I found both Alicia and Rory a bit inconsistent at times and their dynamic with each other was confusing. I would’ve liked Alicia to offer up information in a more positive way and Rory’s motivations for taking a stranger to a remote place weren’t exactly portrayed in the best of ways. I don’t mean that he was sinister or that it was even a possibility, I’m just not sure that he ever explained himself properly to Jesse or Alicia and turning up as a guest at someone else’s house with another person in tow is quite rude. So it’s unsurprising that Alicia is rather stand offish and hostile at first, however this did seem to go on too long. I have to admit I didn’t suspect the twist in its entirety at the end of the book, only part of it and for the most part, I think it worked.
But for me, it was with Bayard where this story shone. He was a man ahead of his time I believe, someone who had compassion and thoughtfulness and an understanding of what it meant to be in the position of lord of such a stronghold. It was a pity he wasn’t the eldest son, I get the feeling that much would’ve been different if he had of been. I really enjoyed his progression with the character of Margaretta and the sympathy he displayed. Like Jesse, Bayern seeks love and a place to belong as well and he has an understanding of his responsibilities concerning both of those things.
I enjoyed this – I think it’d suit those who love a small bit of magic/folklore with their history.
Book #72 of 2015
This review was a part of the Wild Wood blog tour organised by Simon & Schuster AU. Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs on the tour!
Wild Wood is book #26 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015