Review: The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks


Title: The Darkest Shore

Author: Karen Brooks

Published: February 24th 2020, HQ Fiction

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks is a compelling, fascinating, and disturbing historical fiction novel inspired by true events.

“Twas the sea and its siren call and the men to whom they cleaved that made sisters of all the fishwives, regardless of who their mothers were, where they hailed from, and whether their husbands, fathers or brothers were alive or dead.”

The story begins on Hogmanay (New Years Eve) 1703 as Sorcha McIntyre returns home to Pittenweem, a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland, after a fraught few months spent with her sister in St. Andrews. Despite a rude homecoming, Sorcha is happy to be back amongst her close friends, the fishwives of the ‘Weem, and quickly resettles into the rhythm of village life.

“He would put his mind to how to tame Sorcha McIntyre. Her and the rest of the fishwives.”

It’s not long however until the local minister, Patrick Cowper, who considers the independence of the fishwives and in particular Sorcha, an affront to God, takes advantage of an ill young man to turn the community against the women with accusations of witchcraft.

“All of them are wicked, wicked women, every last one of them.”

Drawing on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, (quotes from which chapter introductions are drawn), Brooks seamlessly blends historical detail with informed imagination to create a spellbinding story that explores the true events that occurred in Pittenweem, where seven women (and one man) were imprisoned and tortured after being accused of witchcraft.

While the true motives of the minister who led the persecution of the ‘Pittenweem Witches’ are unknown, Brooks offers an explanation that certainly seems plausible. Her portrayal of Cowper feels authentic (and frighteningly familiar) as he manipulates the Word of God to satisfy his lust for power and control, and to deflect his own personal shortcomings.

Sorcha is a young woman who has defied custom by circumstance. Both her parents are dead, her eldest brother is presumed to have been killed overseas while soldiering, and having been recently widowed, she is the sole owner of a large fishing vessel. The combination of her financial independence, her beauty, and her refusal to heed his demand that she remarry, are in part what infuriates Cowper and makes her a target of his rage.

Though Sorcha is a wholly fictional character, the other women (and one man) who also stand accused as witches in The Darkest Shore were once real people. Brooks breathes life into these tragic figures in a manner that I think honours the strength and dignity with which they seem to have faced Cowper’s vendetta in order to have survived it. The harrowing experiences of the accused, particularly at the hands of ‘The Pricker’ during their imprisonment, and the cruel fate that befell two of them, made for uncomfortable reading at times, more so when you are reminded that there is truth in their suffering.

While there are many dark and troubling events depicted in the novel, there are also inspiring and heartening moments as the fishwives refuse to surrender hope, supporting and comforting one another as best they can through their prolonged ordeal. There is even a touch of romance when Sorcha finds a champion, and love, with an army Captain, and the ending (though Brooks admits it deviates from the official facts) is eminently satisfying.

Beautifully written, with authentic characterisation and vivid description, I found The Darkest Shore to be a captivating, even if sometimes confronting, read.


Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Read an Extract

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer
    Feb 26, 2020 @ 10:05:49

    I completely agree!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Theresa Smith Writes
    Feb 26, 2020 @ 10:28:05

    I’m currently reading this and it is such compelling reading. I seem to be on a bit of a witch theme though having recently read The Mercies (and loved it). An endlessly fascinating topic.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Mystica
    Feb 26, 2020 @ 14:22:00

    Sounds emotional but a satisfying read I think. Thanks for the review

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Helen Murdoch
    Feb 28, 2020 @ 01:44:49

    5 starts?! This novel sounds really interesting and it’s a time period that I haven’t read much about. I wonder how similar this is to the witch trials in the US.

    Liked by 1 person


  5. fuonlyknew
    Feb 29, 2020 @ 03:15:50

    It sure does sound fascinating. I’d like to read it.



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  9. Jan Hicks
    Jul 05, 2020 @ 18:31:31

    This sounds great. I jumped here from your July Six Degrees. I recently read Hannah Kent’s The Good People, which is set in Ireland in the early 1800s. The Darkest Shore sounds like it has similarities. I’m adding it to my wishlist.

    Liked by 1 person


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