Based on true events that took place in the late 17th century, this is the story of Corrag, a young woman who had to flee England under accusations of witchcraft but finds a new home in the Scottish Highlands. Only months after her arrival, she witnesses the Massacre of Glencoe, the politically motivated murder of the leader and other members of the Clan MacDonald, presumably under order of the King of England.
The story is narrated by Corrag herself who has been imprisoned for witchcraft since the massacre, and is scheduled to burn at the stake as soon as the weather allows it. She is telling it to Charles Leslie, an Irish priest and Jacobite, who is looking for proof on the king’s involvement in the event, and whose letters to his wife contain his own view of Corrag and her situation. The start is very slow, and in general, there are long and rambling sections about nature and Corrag’s connection to and impressions of it. On the one hand, it adds to the immersion because it fits with the process of recalling and recounting memories, and Fletcher’s language is wonderfully evocative and descriptive, but on the other hand, it sometimes feels repetitive and overly sentimental which makes the story drag unnecessarily.
There is also another point that I am completely split on, and that is Leslie’s changing attitude towards Corrag. He is a priest, and a very devout one at that, which means that he condems all ‘witches’ as being in league with the devil, and all independent women as abominations and offensive to his beliefs. He gradually alters his opinion, begins to empathise with her, and finally even wants to help her. I was not convinced by the execution of this complete turnaround; it seems less credible than it should, and is entirely too predictable. On the other hand, it would probably have been unbearable to not have him change his attitude so radically because the dread hanging over her gruesome account is offset to some degree by his growing sympathy which gives hope for a more positive ending at least for Corrag herself.
Overall, the atmosphere Fletcher creates is impressive, with her descriptions that bring the harsh beauty of the Highlands to life, and that depict them as a mystic and somehow magical place. Corrag is an engaging and likeable protagonist that additionally is representative of all the independent and knowledgeable women that had to suffer for their nonconformity over the course of history. Fletcher also included some other female outcasts who have to live outside society for different reasons than Corrag, which adds another facet to this theme. Ultimately, this is not a flawless book by far, but an enjoyable one that manages to captivate its audience by appealing to the heart rather than the brain.