In "By Sword and Storm" Margaret Skea threads two interconnected storylines into a fast paced novel which paints a realistic and highly believable picture of life at the highest levels of society in both the Scottish and French courts at the time. In doing so, she returns to the narrative of her earlier novel, "A House Divided", to revisit the lives and fortunes of the Montgomerie and the Cunninghame families at the close of the 16th Century.
No love is lost between the families and relations between William, Master of Glencairn and Hugh, Laird of Braidstane are strained in the extreme. Neither man seems able to be in the presence of the other without conflict arising and, as they both seek the favour of King James VI, their regular presence at court increases the likelihood of there being a flashpoint. Whilst the country has enjoyed relative stability under the rule of King James VI, talk of the likely demise of the ailing Queen Elizabeth has led to a power struggle amongst the ruling classes as they seek to curry the favour of the likely next King of England.
Meanwhile, the Munros are settling into a new life in Cayeux, deep in the French countryside. Sir Adam Munro, colonel of the Scots Gardes, splits his time between his home and family and serving Henry IV of France. When Adam takes a bullet and saves the King's life he is rewarded with a place at court and wife Kate, initially none too keen to join him there, finds herself plunged into a life that she would never have chosen for herself. But Kate and their children thrive at court, as does her infant son, whose rapid entry into the world came on the same day as Henri's own son Alexandre was born to his mistress the Duchesse of Beaufort.
Set against a background of religious tension, the Munros have to pick a careful course once established at court, as they are Protestants and the King a Catholic. Whilst Henri himself is tolerant, the Parisian people are less so, and the misguided actions of Robbie, eldest son of Sir Adam and his wife Kate, puts at risk their new life almost before it has begun. Meantime, in Scotland, familial warfare and the battle for one-one-upmanship between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames sees William and Hugh first trade insults and then blows, when an otherwise innocent encounter between the pair and their respective entourages turns sour.
The characters encountered are many, but each one is brought convincingly to life. There are colourful individuals, opulent settings and clashes of personality aplenty. There are thoughtful and level headed characters as well as those who let their tempers get the better of them. There are relationships which work and those that are destined to fail. The result is a hugely satisfying read which leaves this reader, in particular, hoping that there will be another book in this excellent series.