Sun 30 Jan 2011
Reviews by L. J. Roberts
SHONA MacLEAN – A Game of Sorrow. Quercus, UK, trade paperback, 2010.
Genre: Historical mystery. Leading character: Alexander Seaton; 2nd in series. Setting: Scotland/Ireland-1628.
First Sentence: The bride’s grandmother smiled: she could feel the discomfort of the groom’s family and it pleased her well.
It is disconcerting enough to be accused of less-then reputable actions you know you did not commit, but even more so when confronted by a man who could be your twin.
Alexander Seaton, a reputable teacher at Marischal College in Aberdeen, has never known any family beyond his now-dead parents until now. Near-twin cousin Sean O’Neill is about to change all that with an entreaty for Alexander to come with him to Ireland. It seems his grandfather is dying and the entire O’Neill family is under a curse which only the proven existence of Alexander can break.
It is always frustrating when you absolutely love an author’s first book and are then disappointed in their second. Unfortunately, that was the case here. In The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, I felt great empathy for the character and came to care about him.
In this book, other than as the “voice” of the story, and the one to whom everything happens — how many times can one get hit on the head without major concussion or brain damage — we learn little about his internal makeup. Yes, it is interesting that he is such a fish-out-of-water character being an academic caught up in conflict, but he never really came to life.
I’ve never been to Ireland, but I did love MacLean’s descriptions. She made me feel as though I were standing next to the characters, and wished I could be. I also felt she well conveyed the sense of Ireland as a land where faith and superstition walked hand-in-hand.
While I found the history fascinating and gained a better understanding of the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants, English and Irish, I felt MacLean became so caught up in the history, I somewhat forgot about the story.
I was also interested to learn that a troupe of traveling players may have performed Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in Ireland during this time.
The story was interesting but I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters and, because most of them were simply that, there were few about whom I really cared. I am, by no means, ready to give up on MacLean. I do hope, however, her next book focuses more on telling us a whopping good story.
Editorial Comment: An interview with Shona MacLean can be found online here. And in case you may have been wondering, the answer is yes, sort of. Her uncle was “best-selling author Alistair MacLean who wrote The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare and a host of other action thrillers.”