A wonderful voice characterizes this book, with a natural conversational tone and a beautifully comprehensible and convincing Scottish dialect. The words practically speak themselves in the reader’s mind, much to this reader’s delight, and I kept finding myself wondering how I was enjoying such foreign cadences without any fear of misunderstanding them. Long after I’ve forgotten the story I’ll remember reading and enjoying this book—and I don’t expect I’ll forget the story quickly either, as it’s truly captivating, delivered with powerful conviction and a pleasingly light touch.
The historical detail is as convincing and real as the voice, from a “sheep’s head, its skull stuffed with boiled brains” offered at dinner to details of childbirth, to the well-chosen quotes from 15th and 16th century poets and writers heading each chapter. Luther has pinned his “satanic Theses” to the door; the Scots king, church and culture are inextricably intertwined; France is ever the closest ally and England the threatening foe; and nuns begin to create their “Cities of Ladies” to serve the rich or even, sometimes, the poor. Gossip governs in streets and palaces, and appealing religious debates have plenty to intrigue both believing and non-believing readers, being perfectly balanced to the characters with no sense of author intrusion.
A tale of fall and redemption, faithlessness and restoration, and Reformation too, this novel surprised and delighted me at every turn. John Knox appears as a young man learning, and eventually learning to rebel, weaving his way in and out of the tale as the author maintains her perfect balance of known fact and fiction, readability and authenticity, politics and religion, and wonderful storytelling.
The First Blast of the Trumpet is a long novel, a thoroughly enjoyable read nicely split into well-defined parts, and a satisfyingly complete tale. If it’s truly the first in a trilogy as well I can only say I’m really looking forward to the next.
Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this novel before publication in exchange for my honest review.