The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks 

‘Someone had to bear witness.’

In 1703, Sorcha McIntyre returns to her hometown of Pittenweem, on Scotland’s east coast. Pittenweem is a small fishing village, steeped in legend, tradition and superstition.  Sorcha is a widow and a fishwife, whose defiance of custom will prove dangerous.

A young local lad falls ill.  A victim of witchcraft, according to Reverend Cowper and some of the local villagers. In the ensuing hysteria, several women are named witches, imprisoned and tortured. The Reverend Cowper knows how to manipulate the situation, claiming to have right (and God) on his side.

What follows is an intense story, which is largely based on real events. Ms Brooks brings her characters to life: the circumstances and friendships of the fishwives are as much a part of the story as their fight for freedom. I kept reading, wanting the hysteria to abate.  I kept reading, wanting to see justice for the accused women, wanting to see Reverend Cowper get his just deserts.

I read this novel twice.  The first time, I read to find out how it would end.  The second time, I paid more attention to the setting, to Ms Brooks’s depictions of character and place.  I also appreciated the glossary and list of characters.

This is a compelling, dark work of historical fiction.  Not comfortable, and a reminder of both the best and worst of human nature.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin HQ Fiction for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith