From Ash And Stone by Julie Daines
Set in the turbulent times of Henry VIII’s rebellion against the Catholic Church, From Ash And Stone follows Margaret Grey, a young woman from the dangerous lands just south of the Scottish border. Reivers are a way of life in the borderlands, and England’s king is too busy to care, whereas Mary Queen of Scots is a babe in arms. The law in the borderlands is made by the strong, a lesson Margaret learns only too well when in the space of a single night her family and home are all destroyed. Six years later, older and wiser, she returns to her home with only one thing on her mind. Vengeance.
Margaret has a special skill, though, one she believes to be a curse. Her head was struck against a standing stone the night she lost her family, and she gained the uncanny ability to know another person’s thoughts at the touch of their skin.
Unfortunately, almost everyone really is out to get her in this story, and using her gift causes her pain, so she doesn’t realise until it’s almost too late that the one person she can trust is her Scottish neighbour, Angus Robson, and his mute brother Gillis. Angus is, frankly, adorable, even if he does keep thwarting Margaret’s chances for revenge. His acceptance of her ‘gift’ and of the girl Osanna she takes under her protection (who is definitely a witch) is heart-warming, and his brother Gillis is heart-breakingly sweet.
The sheer lawlessness of life in the borders at the time comes across very well in this novel, which was why I found one particular plot point so incredible; how did one young girl, friendless, alone and injured, make her way all the way to London and back again? And why would she even do so? It’s not as though she could appeal to the king, or had any family there to turn to. It made no sense to me for Margaret to go so far, and one other thing also got to me, the Almost But Not Quite trope. I honestly lost count of the number of times Margaret was Almost But Not Quite raped or killed, always saved just in the nick of time, either by her own wits (at least she didn’t always have to be rescued) or by the intervention of Angus. It got kind of predictable after a while.
The end of the story left me somewhat dissatisfied as well, since I’m afraid I like villains to get what’s coming to them and the Big Bad of this story just… didn’t. In terms of historical accuracy, this is superbly written, and the characters were very realistic, but there were a few too many things which just didn’t quite sit right for me. Three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.