Review: The Betrayal of Maggie Blair, by Elizabeth Laird
I generally do not read a lot of historical novels unless there are some element of fantasy as well, but I do enjoy stories taking place during certain eras and/or events. I am also a bit fascinated by the witch hunts and trials that happened in Europe and New England during the 17th century and this is precisely why I requested this book and was very interested in reading it.
The novel tells the story of sixteen-year old Maggie Blair who lives with her very angry and spiteful grandmother on the island of Bute in seventeenth-century Scotland. The first third of the novel deals with her life on the island, the tensions between the inhabitants and her grandmother and the subsequent accusations of witchcraft. Maggie finds herslef accused and sentenced to death and is forced to flea the island. She takes refuge in her uncle's house on the mainland. There she thinks she can finally lead a peaceful life, but trouble seems to follow her. Her uncle Hugh is a Covenanter, a group of Scottish men and women who want a church free of the King's rule. By refusing to akcnowledge the King as the head of the Church and to attend any services lead by any royal-appointed bishop, they were soon fined, persecuted and even executed. Maggie finds herself more and more involved, never sure where she stands in her beliefs, but still willing to risk her own life to save her uncle and his family.
The Betrayal of Maggie Blair is, in my opinion, a fascinating YA historical novel. This was partly due, I must admit, to my total ignorance of the history of the Covenanters (presbyterians) in Scotland, and I was so happy to learn more about the subject. I thought the book was a bit too long, though. It's hard to say why as I look back on it, because the story always moved forward, there rarely were any idle moments or unnecessary long descriptions. It did cover a lot of time and events, from Maggie's life on the island, to her life with her uncle, to her quest to help him, and back. But I must say that I was immerse in it nonetheless, I read it relatively fast, and I absolutely needed to know how it would finish. There is no love story in this novel (what a change!) and is purely the story of a girl's journey and of a specific period in Scotlnad's history.
There was a disconnect between the first and second part of the book. While both dealt with religious persecutions of two different kinds, one born of hatred, ignorance and fear, the other out of power and control, plot-wise they felt almost unrelated. Maggie could have had any other reason to see her uncle without having to flea due to false accusations of witchcraft. The only connection between the two parts was the character of Maggie herself and her emotional and psychological growth spurred by all of these events. As a protagonist Maggie is well developed, starting as an uneducated, fearful and slowly developing into a smart and braver young women. Her growing process was slow and sometimes frustrating, but it felt true at the same time. I sometimes wanted her to be more proactive, more outspoken, just more, but then I realized I was comparing her to all those fantasy heroines I like, not to what a seventeenth-century Scottish girl would be. Once I realized my mistake, I was able to appreciate her more. In the end, I liked this book and it did make me want to maybe pick up more historical novels in the future.
This book will be published April 18th 2011. See the Goodreads page, to add it to your to-read list!