Loch Katrine waterworks, 1856. A Highland wilderness fast becoming an industrial wasteland. No place for a lady.
Isabel Aird is aghast when her husband is appointed doctor to an extraordinary waterworks being built miles from the city. But Isabel, denied the motherhood role that is expected of her by a succession of miscarriages, finds unexpected consolations in a place where she can feel the presence of her unborn children and begin to work out what her life in Victorian society is for.
The hills echo with the gunpowder blasts of hundreds of navvies tunnelling day and night to bring clean water to diseased Glasgow thirty miles away – digging so deep that there are those who worry they are disturbing the land of faery itself. Here, just inside the Highland line, the membrane between the modern world and the ancient unseen places is very thin.
With new life quickening within her again, Isabel can only wait. But a darker presence has also emerged from the gunpowder smoke. And he is waiting too.
Inspired by the mysterious death of the seventeenth-century minister Robert Kirke and set in a pivotal era two centuries later when engineering innovation flourished but women did not, The Ninth Child blends folklore with historical realism in a spellbinding narrative.
My reading experience:
Firstly I would like to thank the author, publisher and Netgalley for my free ARC.
If your mind is open to the superstitions of the world of the Scottish Highlands of the mid nineteenth century, as well as the mystical folklore of the sithichean and the faery world then this is definitely going to nourish your soul.
The story is narrated by different voices- that of Kirsty McEchern who is a navvy’s wife that goes to work for Isabel Aird, and Robert Kirke, himself a minister taken to faery land in 1692 and returned to the Highlands in 1856 with a task to perform.
The story has several themes: women’s roles in the mid nineteenth century, medical science and advances, Loch Katrine waterworks, miscarriages, motherhood, values & belief systems including superstition, folklore and education. The prose are written phonetically which makes this tale immersive, compelling and utterly thrilling. The hopes, cynicism’s, losses, and fears are all evident in the sounds of the words; the malevolent undertones of Robert Kirke and the sithichean, the overwhelming sorrow and emptiness of Isabel Aird are both deeply felt by the reader.
As the waterworks of the Loch progress, so too does Robert Kirke’s enchantment over Isabel and the reader can sense her being lulled into a situation that only Kirsty can ‘see.’
With a surprising denouement I thoroughly enjoyed reading this tale and highly recommend it.