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The Lady in the Loch – Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

January 11, 2009

January has been Science Fiction month, due to Carl’s encouragement at Stainless Steel Droppings – and The Sci Fi Experience 2009, which will run from January 1st through February 28th, 2009.  Inspired by the Carl’s reviews of John Scalzi’s work, particularly Old Man’s War, I decided to plunge into another world.  Trying to find a day the library was open between the Christmas closings and the New Years closings was a challenge in itself!  I did eventually find the book I sought on the Science Fiction shelf at Milwaukee’s wonderful, downtown library. On the shelf, next to Scalzi, was Scarborough.  Such a lovely Scottish name, I pulled that book from the shelf too, and discovered The Lady in the Loch.  The setting, the title, the author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (a Nebula winner), and the cover (by Jean-Yves Kervevain), sold me.  I brought the book home.

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First, I have to say in my opinion the fact the author was a Nebula winner is the reason the book found its way to the Science Fiction shelf.  The Nebula, given annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America, acknowledges excellence in science fiction writing.  Scarborough won the Nebula for The Healer’s War, which draws on her experiences as a nurse in Vietnam.  The Lady in the Loch is more of an alternate-history fantasy/mystery novel, and I don’t see it fitting in the Science Fiction niche in any way.

nor-loch-and-north-bridge

The Draining of Nor Loch to build the new town

Set in 18th century Scotland, the story is primarily seen through the eyes of Midge Margret, a young woman who has escaped an abusive husband and gone back to her family, an itinerant gypsy group.  They have come to Edinburgh to beg a living during a particularly hard winter.  Midge is befriended by the young Walter Scott, when he is scouring the countryside searching for the “old songs” sung by native people.  They meet again when he, in his role as sheriff of Selkirk, investigates the death of a young woman whose bones are found in the dredged Nor Loch.  A young gypsy maiden is kidnapped, and then another. Midge Margret and Walter Scott, each in their own way, approach the secret behind the disappearances, and soon find themselves up against a demented necromancer.

departure-of-the-gypsies1

The Departure of the Gypsies
Drawn by Clark Stanton, Etched by C. de Billy
Illustration taken from Sir Walter Scott’s  The Astrologer

Scarborough has done an excellent job of researching her setting. The descriptions of Edinburgh, the gypsies’ lifestyle, Walter Scott and his associates, are very well done.  The fantasy and horror elements based in Scottish folklore are also well done. Much of the speech is given in Scots dialect, which adds to a realistic atmosphere.

bulls_eye2

The Bull’s Eye

If you enjoy alternate-history fantasy mystery borderline science fiction novels, I recommend this book to you!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2009 12:16 am

    I think alternative history is probably the reason for the science fiction classification as I believe that is considered a science fiction convention for some reason. I can see why you were so drawn in by the cover, it is lovely. Especially as it is winter…I find snowy images especially delicious in the good ol’ wintertime.

    I know I’ve heard of this author but am not sure why. Her full name really rolls off the tongue, I like it.
    I’m glad you enjoyed it and hope you find some more science fiction that captures your attention.

    Scarborough has done tons of writing, plus a lot of co-writing with Anne McCaffrey – maybe that is why it her name is familiar. Surprisingly, she lives in the U.S.
    Exactly why I like the cover, snowy images like this are wonderful. It is rather mysterious and frightening, too – the dark sledge with the horses against the whiteness of the snow. Did you notice Edinburgh castle in the back ground? It is odd to see it not surrounded by city. I couldn’t find anything about the illustrator of the cover, unfortunately.
    Alternative history as science fiction? That is strange, but I guess Jo Walton’s books are considered science fiction, too.

  2. January 12, 2009 12:17 am

    Oh, I forgot to mention that I really enjoyed the images you included in this review.

    They are linked, if you are interested in seeing more. They look like etchings, don’t they? I like etchings a lot.

  3. January 13, 2009 7:34 pm

    This looks like a good novel for a winter’s night. I’m not much into sci-fi or total fantasy, but when combined with mystery and history, I think I could get sucked in. Nice graphics you found to illustrate this post, too…that’s one of the reasons I love coming here!

    Just like you, Jeanie, I am very much into visuals! I think you might like this book. The Scottish lore/history and the language were wonderfully done. I’ve always liked gypsies, too!

  4. January 15, 2009 10:26 am

    Well, it’s not fair, but LADY IN THE LOCH is one book that I WOULD judge by its cover – I love it. And will look for it if I can just … find … somehting … to … write… on … around… here.

    Just go open the paper closet, there are tons of things to write on there, Oh! It is a very cool cover.
    It is very cool here, too; -40 degree windchill. Brrrrrr. Coffee sure tastes good!

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