The Ninth Child

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Title:The Ninth Child

Writer:Sally Magnusson

Publishing House:John Murray Press

Date of Publication:March 19th 2020

Rating: 4 stars

”’Tis thin, this place of water and stone and tree. Here meet north and south, Highland and Lowland, Gael and Scot. Here are mountains made too thin for awe; burns that idle over-prettily, the maist o’them, for the making of grand waterfalls; lochs rendered so gay by silver-green woodland that a man could forget- aye, and a woman too, my lady of the bellowing dress- the depth of their blackness. The most profound separation in all existence is at its most thin here as well. Perilously thin. This have I also discovered. And so will she.”

Scotland, Loch Katrine, 1850s. A young doctor and his wife try to bring change and radical thinking to a rural community in Stirlingshire. However, all the knowledge and progress in the world may mean little when the happiness of having a child in the family is missing. Isabel tries to accept that motherhood is a remote possibility and finds solace in the beautiful nature of the lochs and the moors, trying to become a part of her husband’s work in a time when Florence Nightingale achieves the impossible. A time when Queen Victoria brings another child into the world. A time when a man trapped in time tries to find peace…

Sally Magnusson is of Scottish and Icelandic descent and the rich cultural heritage is brilliantly demonstrated in her writing. The story is set during the heyday of the Victorian Era when numerous changes brought progress and prosperity. However, no change comes without repercussions and doubts, and ignoring tradition is risky. The lochs hide so much beauty, so much mystery and centuries-old secrets of a world that is bound to human existence, no matter how unbelievable it may seem. Magnusson makes excellent use of the setting since Scotland is one of THE places to be when the veil between the two worlds becomes thinner. ”Which world,” you may ask. Why, our own and the fairy kingdom, of course.

James Murray Dacre A Ruined Castle On A Loch

(A Ruined Castle on a Loch, James Murray Dacre)

What made The Ninth Child so interesting was Magnusson’s choice to have the haunting world of the past, the stories of fairies, changelings and spirits walking side – by – side with Victorian society as industrialization is taking over and science begins to acquire the means to advance. But sometimes. science can only do so much…Magnusson expertly uses Victoria and Albert’s presence in their beloved Balmoral, Sir Walter Scott’s love for folklore and legends, old wives’ tales and customs, and the strange -partly true- story of Robert Kirke and creates a plot where the vast Scottish tradition and the mystery of our human nature meet to unpredictable results. The symbolism of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is obvious when you read the novel and lends a whimsical aura to a rather dark story.

What made me enjoy the novel less was the lack of interesting characters, in my opinion. I can’t say that Isabel is the most sympathetic character I’ve ever encountered. I felt that she was naive and cold and her behaviour towards her husband was highly problematic and unjust. Kirsty was also irritating, Kirke was indifferent, Alexander was nothing to write home about.

It would have been easy for the story to end up in disaster, given certain important parts of the plot, and result in a work that would be in danger of being compared to a popular series set in Scotland, a series which I hate with a vengeance. Thankfully, Magnusson is a consummate writer. She wisely chooses to provide us with multiple perspectives and the story benefits from it. Multiple narrations and characters don’t bring confusion but richness and variety. Every reader should know that…

This is a good time to be a Historical Fiction lover…

Many thanks to John Murray Press and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.