The First Blast of the Trumpet by Marie MacPherson – Book Review

About the Book:

Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-9084832-1-8
Dimensions: 229 x 152mm
Page Count: 400


Hailes Castle, 1511. Midnight on a doom-laden Hallowe’en and Elisabeth Hepburn, feisty daughter of the Earl of Bothwell, makes a wish – to wed her lover, the poet David Lindsay. But her uncle has other plans. To safeguard the interests of the Hepbum family she is to become a nun and succeed her aunt as Prioress of St. Mary’s Abbey, Haddington.

However, plunged into the political maelstrom and religious turmoil of the early Scottish Reformation, her life there is hardly one of quiet contemplation. Strong-willed and independent, she clashes with those who question her unorthodox regime at St. Mary’s, including Cardinal David Beaton and her rival, Sister Maryoth Hay.

But her greatest struggle is against her thrawn godson, John Knox. Witnessing his rejection of the Roman Catholic Church – aided by David Lindsay – she despairs that the sins of her past may have contributed to his present disenchantment. 

As he purges himself from the puddle of papistry, Knox finds his voice, denouncing everything he once held dear, but will that include his godmother, Prioress Elisabeth? And by confessing her dark secrets, will Elisabeth steer Knox from the pernicious pull of Protestantism or drive him further down the fateful path he seems hell-bent on; a path that leads to burning at the stake?
In a daring attempt to shed light on a wheen of unanswered questions about John Knox’s early, undocumented life, this novel throws up some startling claims and controversial conjectures.
Book one of The Knox Trilogy.
 

About the Author:

Hailing from the historic Honest Toun of Musselburgh, six miles from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, Marie Macpherson (née Gilroy) developed a love for literature and languages from an early age. Brought up on the site of the Battle of Pinkie and within sight of Fa’side Castle, she was haunted by tales and legends from the past. The Ballads of the Scottish Borders stirred the romantic in her soul and the works of Sir Walter Scott kept her enthralled during the long, dark winter evenings (and more often nights, reading with a torch beneath the bedclothes).

While she studied French and German at school, followed by Spanish and Italian at university, none of them enthused her so much as seeing the film, Dr. Zhivago, which sparked a desire to read the works of the Russian literary giants in the original. After gaining an Honours Degree in Russian and English, she spent a year in Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) researching her PhD on the work of the 19th century Russian writer, Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from Thomas the Rhymer of the ancient Scottish family of Learmont. Though she has travelled widely, teaching languages and literature across Europe from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her passion for the rich history and culture of her native Scotland.

Now retired from the hurly-burly of academia, her life in the foothills of the Lammermuirs is hardly quiet. With all the various activities organised in her village, from reeling at Scottish Country Dancing to hill-walking, from book clubs to film shows, she has to make time to research and write.

Having attempted various genres, she has found her niche in historical fiction which combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling. Her inspiration not only comes from historical records and documents but from the landscape of the Scottish lowlands where she tries to conjure up what life was like for the inhabitants of those now ruined castles and deserted abbeys. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drive her interest.


My Opinion:

The First Blast of the Trumpet takes on the life of John Knox, the Protestant reformer from Scotland (it is book one of a trilogy). The author’s note clearly indicates that very little is known of Knox’s early life and that this book is very much a depiction of the author’s “what could have beens.”  

Each chapter opens with a quote from either the Bible or David Lindsay‘s writings or some other relevant source. The quote gives a hint of what is to come in the writings below. This first book starts with the history of the Hepburns of Hailes castle – the lords Bothwell – and a basic discussion of the politics of the time. Scottish history is always interesting and often challenging and I think if one had no idea of its clannish complications this would not be a good first book to read.  The addition of common Scottish words was also a tad confusing. I had an e-copy. I don’t know if there was a glossary included with the book or not. I’ve read a LOT of Scottish historical fiction so I was able to muddle through but heaven help a new reader.

The tale moves along as we get to know Elizabeth Hepburn and her sister and cousin. Her sister is forced to wed one of the more powerful lords despite wanting to enter the nunnery. Her cousin heads off to court to become the mistress of the king. Elizabeth is forced into the nunnery despite wanting to marry. Gotta love the way they treated women back in the day.

Elizabeth ultimately becomes Prioress of St. Mary’s – apparently a Hepburn holding for ages. (This is fact.) She learns to accept the role and the freedoms and power it brings her but does she still long for her love, David Lindsay? While visiting with her former nurse she helps with the birth of a child. He is almost dead when born and she does not want to give up on him so she breathes into his mouth and he survives. She stands as his godmother as he is named – John Knox.

The book was very interesting in the beginning and I found myself truly enthralled but then something happened about 2/3rds of the way through. It was as if the author had to get a lot of story in under a certain amount of pages and the chapters started reading like diary entries instead of a complete story line. There were timing issues as well as issues discussed in one chapter weren’t introduced until the next. It was frustrating. I don’t know if it is because books can’t be long any more or what but it took away from the reading experience for me. I don’t mind a big, long book. I miss them as a matter of fact. 

If this had continued the way it began it would have been a 5 star read in spite of the Scottish words thrown in and in spite of the glossing over on the political stuff. It might be different for a less well read reviewer but I truly enjoyed the book until it started changing. 

Rating:
4

You can purchase The First Blast of the Trumpet on Amazon.com

Disclosure:  I received a free ecopy of The First Blast of the Trumpet from Knox Robinson Publishing for my honest review. I received no compensation for this post.

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