"The Mermaid and the Bear" by Ailish Sinclair is a delightful book telling the story of Isobell, who we first meet at sea, en route to Scotland in September 1596. Isobell was born into a life of privilege, but the thought of marriage to a cruel and scheming man leads her to plot her escape and flight from her family. Her older brother John is as mean and as cruel as her beau, but her twin brother Jasper agrees to accompany her as she makes her escape from London to a new life in the north.
Isobell is a dreamer and she imagines a life among faery castles, being swept off her feet by a handsome laird. Whilst the reality of both her journey north and her new life as a kitchen maid look to fall far short of her dreams, Isobell does find friendship, warmth, love and safety in her new home. She also catches the eye of the laird, with whom she strikes up an unlikely friendship. Maybe there is a happy ending to be had after all?
But whilst faery stories are magical, reality is often less so and Isobell finds herself caught up in the dark side of sixteenth century life. At the height of Scottish witchcraft accusations and the denial of the Catholic faith, there is much superstition and fear and Isobell and her new friends are drawn into this at a time when their Laird is not around to protect them. Can they maintain hope through adversity and keep their faith despite the challenges they face? Will love conquer evil?
"The Mermaid and the Bear" is a delight from end to end. There is a superb level of description in the book, that transports the reader back to the sights, sounds and smells of 16th Century life in a Scottish castle. The scenes played out are believable in their settings and the characters populating the pages are easy to visualise and warm to. They all contribute to a thoroughly enjoyable read that turns out to have more than its fair share of twists, turns and surprises.