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