A Game of Sorrows, By Shona MacLean

Celtic quest has mystery appeal

In these straitened times, at least one welcome trend is warming the cockles of booksellers' hearts: the revival of the popular historical novel.

The astonishing success of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall has rekindled readers' taste for vivid period fiction, but such writers as C J Sansom had been paving the way. If your taste is for such fare, you would be wise to pick up Shona MacLean's A Game of Sorrows, a diverting historical mystery that combines the ironclad plotting of Sansom with the artful recreation of Mantel.

MacLean's protagonist is once again the eponymous hero of her The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, much praised for its atmospheric evocation of Scotland in the 1620s. Seaton is a disgraced cleric whose love affairs have cost him his job. He undergoes a double journey, involving the uncovering of a murderer and the regaining of his faith.

It is 1628, and Seaton has a new life as a university teacher in Aberdeen. A stranger arrives – an emissary from his family in Ireland. Seaton listens in amazement as he is told that his clan has been placed under a poet's curse. His relatives are to die, one by one, and the curse is (apparently) already claiming victims. Against his will, Seaton returns to Ulster and finds himself embroiled in bitter internecine squabbles. As he attempts to track down the curser, he quickly finds that his own life is in just as much danger as his benighted relatives'.

The Game of Sorrows makes stimulating company for a trip to 17th-century Carrickfergus. The Celtic atmosphere has striking pungency, and Seaton is a nicely idiosyncratic protagonist. His sometimes anachronistic 20th-century mindset is balanced against the prejudices of his time – he is prone to judge people by their religion, rather as Umberto Eco gave his otherwise modern-minded sleuth in The Name of the Rose some negative medieval views on women. Although the brio of the earlier book is more fitfully evident here, MacLean once again demonstrates that she is a distinctive talent.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in