The Raven's Heart

by Jesse Blackadder

Reviewed by Annis

The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder The Raven's Heart is a haunting tale of obsession, treachery and violence set in Scotland during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. At its centre is an ancient castle on the banks of Blackadder Water. Ever since the first Blackadder sprinkled his blood in the river in token of covenant with the land, the desire to possess it has driven men to madness.

Alison Blackadder's life is shaped by her father William's fixation with his lost patrimony, Blackadder Castle in Berwickshire. "I have never been in that castle, but the memory of it has been handed down with my name, the same name as the stones and the river. It came to me in dreams … night after night … the whispering of theft and murder and revenge." William and Alison have been on the run for years, avoiding assassins sent by the castle’s usurpers, the powerful Hume clan. Alison, now sixteen, is known as Robbie. For her own safety she has been brought up disguised as a boy.

Alison and her father return to Scotland from France in 1561 with the party bringing young Mary Stuart back to the home she left thirteen years earlier. Captivated, Alison sees Mary as "a fire roaring in a hearth which has been ashes for all our living memory." Playing a dangerous dual role as both Robbie and lady-in-waiting Alison, she becomes Mary's confidante and spy, tangled in the queen's increasingly disastrous affairs by bonds of love and hero-worship.

Atmospherically evoking Mary's doomed reign, The Raven's Heart also traces Alison's coming of age in a court where sex and death are the currency of power. A girl who thinks and acts as a young man, desire draws her to other women, yet the charismatic Lord Bothwell also attracts her. Trapped between her father's obsession and Mary's demands on her loyalty, only through selfless love can Alison become free as "that black water that will still run, no matter who claims it." (2011; 446 pages, including an Author's Note with bibliography, a Plan of the City and Castle of Edinburgh in the 16th century and a Map of Scotland in the 16th century.)

More about The Raven's Heart at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository.

Interview with author Jesse Blackadder

Other novels set during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots:

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory (2008). More info

Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George (1992). More info

Queen's Play by Dorothy Dunnett (1964), #2 in the Lymond Chronicles series. More info

Nonfiction about Mary, Queen of Scots, and her time:

Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser (1969). More info

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy (2004; also titled My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots). More info

Scotland Under Mary Stuart: An Account of Everyday Life by Madeline Bingham (1971). More info

At the Movies:

Mary, Queen of Scots, the 1972 film starring Vanessa Redgrave as Mary, packaged in a 2-DVD set with 1969's Anne of the Thousand Days starring Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn.


Clan Blackadder at Wikipedia

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