#BookReview - Soot by Andrew Martin

York, 1799.

In August, an artist is found murdered in his home - stabbed with a pair of scissors. Matthew Harvey's death is much discussed in the city. The scissors are among the tools of his trade - for Harvey is a renowned cutter and painter of shades, or silhouettes, the latest fashion in portraiture. It soon becomes clear that the murderer must be one of the artist's last sitters, and the people depicted in the final six shades made by him become the key suspects. But who are they? And where are they to be found?

Later, in November, a clever but impoverished young gentleman called Fletcher Rigge languishes in the debtor's prison, until a letter arrives containing a bizarre proposition from the son of the murdered man. Rigge is to be released for one month, but in that time, he must find the killer. If he fails, he will be incarcerated again, possibly for life.

And so, with everything at stake, and equipped only with copies of the distinctive silhouettes, Fletcher Rigge be…

Book Review - Sealskin by Su Bristow




Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous … and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?

Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Exeter Novel Prize-winner Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.


I first read about Sealskin a few months ago and have been quietly stalking it ever since, I do love magical realism books and this one sounded exactly my cup of tea. The very first line of the book immediately drew me in,
"You can't trust moonlight."
Yet within a few pages I felt a little uneasy, Donald's actions made me feel very uncomfortable and while I have no issue with violence in books I wasn't expecting it here and it did make me question whether it was the book I expected. The answer is no, it probably isn't but what I took from the story was so much more profound and unforgettable. I'm glad I decided to read on because what follows is a masterclass in evocative storytelling. The characterisation, the scene setting, the plot, all combine into a truly wonderful story. Yes, there is that dreadful act at the start but it's worth remembering that traditional fairy tales were often violent and the myth that inspired Sealskin is no different and while inexcusable it was the moment that necessarily determines what follows.
Donald's actions that night shape not just his life but the lives of his entire community, and it's a community that although necessarily tight-knit - these are people living tough lives, dictated to by the land, weather and frequently cruel sea - has a darker side. Mhairi's introduction changes them all irrevocably, secrets are uncovered, truths told and lessons, sometimes reluctantly, learnt. What I loved was seeing all the characters grow, even those who initially seem unlikeable are touched in some way by a remarkable woman who may not have the power of human speech but is somehow still able to  to transform their lives.
If I lived alone I would have forgotten to eat, so immersed was I in this little village on the west coast of Scotland. It is so beautifully crafted, so richly described and, despite it's mythic inspiration actually a book that reveals an enduring truth about human frailties and strengths, about love, forgiveness, acceptance and loss. It will be a book I will be recommending for years to come, certain books come along that touch something inside of you, and Sealskin is one of those books.


Many thanks to Orenda for my review copy. And some more good news from Orenda, they now have an ebook store, check it out for exciting and original fiction from across the world!

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