Read of the week

The Ninth Child

Sally Magnusson

Jonathan Ball

Review: Lauren O’Connor-May

Sally Magnusson blends historical fiction and fantasy in The Ninth Child, her second novel, but this is not cutesy, whimsical fantasy.

The faeries in this book are scheming, malicious and vengeful.

The book tells the story of the fictional Isabel Aird, the broken-hearted wife of a doctor who is struggling to carry her babies long enough for them to have a chance of survival.

Mixed into Isabel’s story is the real history of the building of Glasgow’s first plumbing works. The works are being built from Loch Katrine, which is bordered by Loch Chon, both of which is steeped in dark faerie mythology.

Added to the mix is Robert Kirke, a historical presbyterian minister surrounded by controversy and myth.

Kirke comes onto the story scene and immediately starts spreading faerie menace.

Other than Kirke, the story is peppered with other prominent historical figures, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Florence Nightingale and men and women of science, some who became prominent, others who were more obscure, who work on the ambitious project of bringing clean, piped water and better health to Scotland.

Magnusson is a crafty story-teller. At the centre, the story she invents is slim and dainty but she weaves into it, lyrical writing, emotional engagement and artful character development and makes it into an interesting and charming read.

Slow-paced and subtle, the book is a refreshing way to make history more relatable, whether or not that was the author’s intention.