‘Kingdom of Shadows’ – Barbara Erskine
In a childless and unhappy marriage, Clare Royland is rich and beautiful – but lonely. And fueling her feelings of isolation is a strange, growing fascination with an ancestress from the distant past. Troubled by haunting inexplicable dreams that terrify – but also powerfully compel – her, Clare is forced to look back through the centuries for answers.
In 1306, Scotland is at war. Isobel, Countess of Buchan, faces fear and the prospect of untimely death as the fighting surrounds her. But passionate and headstrong, her trials escalate when she is persecuted for her part in crowning Robert the Bruce, her lover.
Duncairn, Isobel’s home and Clare’s beloved heritage, becomes a battleground for passions that span the centuries. As husband Paul’s recklessness threatens their security, Clare must fight to save Duncairn, and to save herself from the powers of Isobel…
This is a typical Barbara Erskine novel which follows two female protagonists – one in modern England and the second a character from the past. ‘Kingdom of Shadows’ is a historic, romantic thriller that shifts from rich Clare Royland, to her Scottish roots and her 14th century ancestor, Isobel, the fiery and independent Countess of Buchanan. The journey of the two characters is thrilling and claustrophobic as each woman seeks freedom from their husbands, and, in Clare’s case, the nightmares.
The disintegration of Clare’s marriage and the distrust her friends and family show towards her makes the reader feel desperate towards her plight. The change that her husband undergoes and the irrational thinking is shocking and at every turn that Clare tries to escape, he has blocked her way. The reader knows the truth of what is happening and at times I felt like screaming at the characters and how they have all been beguiled by Paul Royland’s web of lies.
The parallels that emerge between Clare and Isobel as two women fighting for independence are fully solidified at the end of the novel. Whilst the central setting of Duncairn Castle brings the two women together and sets off the chain of events for Clare over inheritance and ownership, I found myself only truly exploring the connections between Clare and Isobel once I had finished the novel. I think this is an interesting way of taking the reader through the story and it is great that the story still plays on your mind once you have finished it
Whilst Erksine typically centralises her story on two women, I still found myself wondering what was happening to other important male characters. This was a little frustrating but readers have to place their trust in Erskine in the faith that they will find out the movements of Paul, Robert the Bruce and Isobel’s husband. This did not ruin my enjoyment of the story and, having read so many of Barbara Erskine’s novels, I knew that her central protagonists would reveal the subplots in their own time.
I really enjoyed reading this novel. Yes, there are quite a few characters in 1306 Scotland and there is a lot of Scottish history running throughout, but this did not ruin my enjoyment. Do not feel you have to know your history in advance of reading this book and don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking up the stories once you have finished! I would recommend this if you do enjoy historical novels; it is such a thrilling read that even though it is nearly 800 pages long, the pace never slows for a moment.