The Blurb (from Goodreads):
Iona Balfour’s life is turned upside down when her beloved aunt Grizel is executed for the crime of witchcraft. Before she dies, Grizel appoints Iona as guardian of a precious family bloodstone and tells her she must flee their village and deliver the stone to the mysterious Guild of the Green Lion.
Accompanied by a new friend, Cal, Iona soon realises that she’s awakened the powers of the bloodstone. But it promises to be a perilous journey. The wolf month is no time to be on the road. And there’s a witch hunter on Iona’s trail, who has a strange obsession with the stone.
When a devastating betrayal throws her into the hands of her enemies, Iona soon finds herself in the fight of her life. Will she suffer the same fate as her aunt, or will she escape the witch hunter and fulfil her destiny?
An utterly riveting tale of magic, danger and witch-hunts in 17th century Scotland that grips you by the throat and won’t let go.
The story is set in sixteenth century Scotland, one of my favourite times and places. King James I sits on the throne, and has a dark, disturbing interest in witchcraft and Satanism (Shakespeare wrote ‘Macbeth’ during his reign, knowing it would appeal to him).
Iona Balfour and her sister Ishbel was raised by their aunt Grizel, but their life is destroyed when Grizel is accused of witchcraft and executed. Just before she dies, Grizel gives Iona an urgent task – she must carry the family heirloom, a bloodstone, to safety. Iona hesitates, but the witch-hunters are now on her trail. Helped by her sister, Iona escapes but the road ahead of her is filled with danger, betrayal and death.
No-one and nothing is as it seems. Iona must discover of her own magical potential and that of the bloodstone she carries if she is to survive.
This is just the kind of historical fantasy I most enjoy – deeply rooted in the real, with a strong sense of place, and a flawed and realistic heroine to cheer for. It is clear Cait Duggan has done her research, but she carries it lightly. I particularly loved the use of witchcraft in the book. Iona has to struggle to understand her powers, and nothing comes easily.
The book is also beautifully & limpidly written – Cait Duggan’s prose is as swift and smooth and dangerous as a Highland river.