Back in 2016, I read Turn of the Tide and A House Divided from Margaret Skea’s wonderful historical series about Adam Munro and his family during the reign of James VI of Scotland in the early 16th century. With a bloody clans feud, betrayal, loss and a witch trial, I was hooked and both books made it onto my 2016 list of top ten books of the year. So I’m sure you can imagine it was a hard wait for the 2018 release of the eagerly-anticipated third volume, By Sword and Storm.
At the beginning of this book, we re-join Adam and Kate Munro, and their children Robbie, Maggie and Ellie, now they have all fled Scotland and taken refuge in France. Kate and the girls are settled with Madame Picarde at her farmstead in Cayeux. While Adam and Robbie are both serving in the Scots Gardes to the French king, Henry IV. The year is 1598 – The French Wars of Religion are drawing to an end and Henry introduces the Edict of Nantes, which establishes religious freedom in all but Paris.
For the exiles, the edict and Kate’s unexpected pregnancy symbolise a new start, free from their past troubles and persecution, despite their lingering home-sickness for Scotland and their friends: the Montgomeries. After suffering so much hardship, I truly wanted to see the Munros find some peace; but of course if they did, that early on the book anyway, there wouldn’t be a book! Instead, when Adam bravely foils an attempt on the French king’s life, the whole family are called from the quiet of Cayeux to Henry’s glittering court in bustling Paris.
However this does open up some exciting opportunities: Adam has his family back by his side; Robbie meets a young Huguenot woman; Maggie has the chance to study medicine and Kate becomes close to the king’s mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées. But as well as delights, Paris also holds danger, as religious tensions remain high. While they have dispensation from the king for their protestant faith, they must all tread carefully, be discreet and not let their sympathies give them away.
Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Hugh Montgomery, his wife Elizabeth, and his brothers John and Alexander must also tread a delicate path in their dealings with the spiteful William Cunninghame, his cousin Patrick and his cronies Hamilton and Fullerton. The king, James VI, has outlawed the carrying of weapons and duelling in Edinburgh to curb these long-standing family feuds, but they are still simmering away beneath the surface and James’ has little patience or mercy left. These are still troubled times for the Munros and Montgomeries alike…
Unlike the previous books though, this time the friends are separated and unable to support each other. Each time the narrative switched, I found myself emotionally torn, as I was rooting for them both. As well as the drama it created, having the families split also gives Skea a wonderful opportunity to show us a new setting and a different thread to history. As I knew little to nothing about Henry IV or the French Wars of Religion before reading this book, I was thrilled and again Skea did a beautiful job of bringing the history alive in a totally believable way.
All in all I thought By Sword and Storm was another wonderful, historical rollercoaster ride, that had me gripped from start to finish. When I started reading this I believed it was the third volume in a trilogy, but since finishing it I read that it is actually a saga – I am really hoping it is the latter as this had a tantalisingly open end and I just want more! Great read.
Have you read this? Have you read any other Scottish historical fiction?