An Australian archaeology student inherits a deserted Scottish island from her estranged archaeologist father. She travels to the wild, wind-swept island and tries to learn more about the ancient artifacts her father had begun uncovering. Meanwhile, on the same island, 1200 years ago, a Pictish girl comes into the care of a group of nuns and monks after her family is killed in a Viking raid. It’s a story of love and loss in two time zones, with a time-travelling ghost thrown in. Think Cross Stitch meets Clan of the Cave Bear and you’d be close.
There was a lot about this book to like. The descriptions of the fictional island of Findnar and life in a Christian commune in 800AD were evocative and educational. It is not a period of history I know much about and I found it interesting enough to have to head off to the internet after I finished to learn more about the fascinating Picts of northern Scotland.
The book began promisingly with two budding relationships. In the present day, Australian Freya Dane (and she’s almost always called “Freya Dane” or “Miss Dane” by the characters in the story; these people do not go in for informalities) and local Dan Boyne meet, hate each other on sight, argue passionately, and then, typically, fall head over cliché heels for each other.
The parallel story takes place a thousand years ago and sees Signy and Bear fall madly in love, despite circumstances conspiring to keep them apart.
However, every avid sitcom watcher and chick-lit reader knows that you can’t bring a blossoming romance to resolution too quickly; you need to heighten the anticipation by teasing the audience with “will they, won’t they” plot twists. It was therefore frustrating that both the fledgling romances in this book were resolved by two-thirds of the way through the story (one ridiculously and unrealistically quickly and one unhappily). That left the remainder of the story centred on the political machinations of the various clan leaders as they jostled for supremacy. I confess I lost interest and resorted to skimming my way to the end of the book.
This book ticked all my boxes for a promising holiday read – history, romance, culture, and gorgeous scenery. And I did enjoy it. But I didn’t love it. I suspect a large part of that was due to the annoyingly negative Freya Dane and her abandonment issues. At times, I just wanted to shake her – “You’ve just inherited an island, woman! And an island full of archaeological mysteries and hidden treasures at that. Your PhD thesis is writing itself. You’ve just met not one but two attractive and charming Scottish blokes. Surely you can crack a smile occasionally!”
If you can get beyond Miss Dane’s sulkiness and some of the “yeah right” implausibility of the archaeology, then this could be an enjoyable summer holiday read.
Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis
The Island House
by Posie Graeme-Evans
Published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd