Survival of the Blood
by Beth Bristow
PageTurner Press and Media

"'Yes, th’ Scotland we’re used to is no more. I don’t understand why the king’s army have been ordered to destroy families and homes.'"

Charles Edward Stuart’s unsuccessful bid for the English throne unleashed a wave of blood in Scotland, starting with the brief but gory Battle of Culloden in 1746. Bristow rides the wave most authentically and with humanity through the lives of several Scottish clans as they back their Young Pretender (known later as Bonnie Prince Charlie) against the mighty British forces led by the Duke of Cumberland, son of the reigning king, George II. A welter of characters strides the moors and “Hielands,” but a list helps keep them straight. Some intriguing entities also populate the story: Clamhan, a supernatural raptor who serves The Dark One; De’il, The Dark One’s human-hating master; and Death, the workhorse, with his compassionate spirit helper, Elight. With rare psychological insight, Bristow uses these creatures to guide the treachery, deceit, and perhaps redemption of the Duke of Cumberland, deservedly known as “the Butcher.”

The Gaelic dialect lends authenticity to the work, while a conversational style reveals fascinating details of eighteenth-century Scotland. Hot pokers lance wounds, ropes guide from home to barn in whiteout conditions, buttons and twine fashion lamps, and wise women drink ancient healing potions from a quaich. Women, especially Mary and Janet, are the backbone of the clans, holding fast during a battle doomed from the start for a weak prince not worth the struggle. In irony most cruel, Bristow reveals that Janet of the Cameron clan is related by blood to both the Pretender and the Butcher. Through an intimate saga of the Scottish clans, Bristow convincingly paints the futility of a war sprung from the absurdity of bloodlines. Her interpretation of the Duke of Cumberland is an interesting psychological window into the corruption of a soul. The surprise ending sets up the delightful possibility of a sequel.

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