This is the third novel in Margaret Skea’s Munro Scottish Saga set in 16th century Scotland and France and based on the history of a clan feud known as the Ayrshire Vendetta. I haven’t read the first two, Turn of the Tide and A House Divided, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this third book.
The novel opens in 1598 with Adam Munro, a colonel in the Scots Gardes, living in France with his wife Kate, who has skills as a healer, and their three children, Robbie, Maggie and Ellie. One of the functions of Adam’s regiment is to provide protection to Henri IV of France and when Adam saves the king’s life while risking his own in the process, the Munro family are rewarded with an invitation to come and live at the French court.
In Scotland, meanwhile, the feud between the Cunninghames and Montgomeries is supposedly at an end and the Scottish king, James VI, has banned unauthorised duelling. Most of the family members are trying to keep the peace, but two of them – Hugh Montgomerie and William Cunninghame – are still not prepared to let things rest. The Scottish storyline and the French one alternate throughout the book, eventually coming together as the novel heads towards its conclusion.
By Sword and Storm is a mixture of fact and fiction; many of the characters are real historical figures while others come from the author’s imagination – if you want to know who really existed and who didn’t, there’s a character list at the beginning of the book. Apart from the storylines involving the fictional characters, the novel is grounded in historical fact and has obviously been well researched. I loved the portrayal of life at the court of France, where Kate gets to know the king’s mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées, and I sympathised with Maggie, who longs to study medicine and despite being given opportunities in France that would not have been open to her in Scotland, still faces obstacles because of her sex.
The political and religious situation in France at that time also plays a part in the story. At the beginning of the novel we see Henri IV issuing the Edict of Nantes, bringing the French Wars of Religion to an end and giving the Huguenots more freedom. However, it is still not safe for people in Paris to worship as they wish, as Kate and Adam’s son, Robbie, discovers when he becomes romantically involved with a Huguenot girl. I think Margaret Skea does a good job of showing the many dangers of 16th century life, not only where religion was concerned, but also for pregnant women before and during childbirth, patients with the sort of illness or injury that could be easily treated today, and anyone who had to travel by ship. It’s a period I love to read about but would not have liked to have lived through!
I really enjoyed By Sword and Storm. I liked the characters and even though I hadn’t been with them from the beginning, I found it easy enough to jump into their story and follow what was happening. Although this was meant to be the third in a trilogy, at the end of the novel I felt that there was still scope for more, so I was pleased to find that Margaret Skea has said she may return to this story again in the future.
Thanks to the publisher Corazon Books for providing a copy of this book for review.