cover image Bitter Magic

Bitter Magic

Nancy Hayes Kilgore. Milford House, $19.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-62006-842-7

The pleasant if uneven latest from Kilgore (after Wild Mountain) draws from fascinating source material, but lacks the enchanting vigor of stronger historical fantasies. Set in 1660 Scotland and inspired by the true story of Isobel Gowdie, a confessed witch, the story centers on 17-year-old Lady Margaret of the ancient clan of Hay. Margaret encounters Isobel, a woman who can communicate with dolphins and faeries, and is immediately drawn to her. Her family and friends discourage the association, as witches are routinely burned for heresy. But when Margaret’s best friend, Henrietta, is captured by the MacDonalds amid ongoing clan conflict, Margaret turns to Isobel for magical assistance in bringing Henrietta home, launching her down a dangerous path. The book shifts between Margaret and Isobel’s perspectives with occasional third-person interruptions, and Isobel’s narration is consistently the weaker of the two. Attempts at accurate period dialogue are stilted and expositional (“ ‘I am your father, and I must keep you safe,’ he said with some sorrow in his voice. ‘But I am seventeen, Father. I know how to be safe’ ”), clunkily conveying historical information that is more eloquently covered in an accompanying author’s note. The story is involving enough to keep the pages turning, but the delivery leaves something to be desired. (Aug.)