Maclean, Shona. A Game of Sorrows

Pan Macmillan, $22.99

The sequel to Shona Maclean’s first novel ‘The Redemption of Alexander Seaton’ sees the seventeenth-century protagonist leave Scotland and become embroiled in Irish dramas.

Happily settled into life in Aberdeen, Alexander has just received a plum post to Poland, and is working up the courage to propose to his beloved. One night, a visit from a cousin he never knew he had turns the world upside down. Alexander knows little of his maternal family. This Irish family is unaware of Alexander’s existence, believing his mother drowned before she made it to Scotland. His cousin, so similar in looks that they could be twins, needs Alexander’s help to lift a poet’s curse, which foretells death to all the O’Neills. They set out for Ulster, where they find a nationalist mélange of murder, conspiracy, religion, and espionage.

Like Alexander, the reader, at times, may find it difficult to discern whom to trust and why. Maclean’s detailed plot is occasionally soupy, and the characters many. Despite this, however convoluted the threads become, they are not unnecessarily so. A lost reader will not remain so for long, as they are led gently back into the tale. Reflected in, and perhaps of greater interest than, the O’Neill family’s tragedies is the parallel unfolding of Ulster’s tense political and religious issues. The author’s research is obviously thorough, but not thoroughly obvious. For lovers of historical fiction, this is top shelf.


Reviewed December 2010