Those of you who have followed my reviews for some time may remember me going on about how much I loved The Sleeping Warrior last year. It was without doubt one of my top reads of 2014. Well, Sara Bain has done it again with The Ghost Tree – her second novel, and one of my top reads of 2015. I’m now chomping at the bit for the finale of the trilogy.
So what’s it about?
Five years after the death of his wife, MacAoidh Armstrong moves into a smallholding in southern Scotland with the intention of living a self-sufficient existence. In the nearby town solicitor Libby Butler is trying to find peace after her recent deadly brush with the unknown.
On a hill by the steading stands The Ghost Tree: all that remains of the former Ringcroft of Stocking. Local legend says that when the last Ghost Tree dies, the Rerrick Parish Poltergeist will return.
Just days after MacAoidh moves in, he is forced to contend with a number of strange events that distance him from the local community. Turning to Libby for help, they find themselves challenged by a series of bizarre and terrifying occurrences which defy all logical and scientific explanation.
As the phenomena become increasingly violent and lives are threatened, Libby must delve into closely guarded secrets to discover the reason for the present terror… and come to terms with her growing feelings for MacAoidh. Can she save the pragmatic Highlander from an ancient evil, and in doing so will she lose her heart?
This is no ‘ordinary’ story. In fact Sara Bain just doesn’t do ‘ordinary’ – thank goodness. What she does do, she does brilliantly. This novel isn’t easily classified and certainly can’t be pigeon-holed into a nice, neat category. In fact I’m not even going to try because to do so would do it a disservice. For those that have read the first book, this is less ‘gentle’ than The Sleeping Warrior and really does pack a punch in places but on the other hand, it’s also more romantic – whatever it ‘is’, it just works. Again.
Firstly, the setting is perfect. What could be a better place for what is ultimately a rather frightening tale than an isolated smallholding in Southern Scotland? ‘I grew up with tales of haunted ruins by Loch Assynt, Lochan Dubh and Achmore; strange beasts in the water in Lochan Feith an Leothaid; dead sailors walking and mermaids at Sandwood Bay’.
One of the many other things that Sara Bain does brilliantly are her heroes. I honestly didn’t think anyone could top Gabriel from the first novel who I’m not ashamed to admit I fell in love with. But actually, MacAoidh is anything but disappointing: ‘He’s a wonderful, gentle human being. What’s not to love about him?’ I don’t know how she does it, but I’m certainly not complaining.
Don’t believe in ghosts? Don’t worry, MacAoidh Armstrong doesn’t either. Not even when one of the barns on his land completely disappears: ‘it’s space filled with empty, dark, countryside’. And others are similarly disbelieving: ‘So you’re saying all this can be put down to a physical expression of psychological trauma?’ Is it or isn’t it?
Don’t let the paranormal aspect put you off. This is no sentimental ghost story. As in the first book, Libby’s completely down-to-earth character and Bain’s exceptional writing style ensure the book remains firmly grounded. Libby is still as wonderfully flawed and straight-talking as ever: ‘I’ve got an attitude problem. I’m excellent at making enemies but not so good at keeping friends… I don’t deserve someone to share my life with. I was a really horrible person two years ago and I’m still a bit of a bitch’. Some of her conversations with MacAoidh’s mother are laugh out loud funny. She’s just brilliant. I’d love to take her to the pub and buy her a beer.
Do you ever finish a novel and wish you could read it again for the first time? I feel that way about both of Sara’s books. They are unlike anything else I’ve read in the last two years and I can’t wait for the third part in the trilogy. Thank you so much to Sara for sending me a copy.
‘It’s only through the conservative rules of science and Christianisation that we, as a modern race, have stopped believing in anything that can’t be plausibly predicted by mathematical formulas or the Bible. What if we’re wrong?’
Get The Ghost Tree on kindle for only £2.63 at the moment – a complete bargain: The Ghost Tree
And if you want to read them in order (not a requirement but they’re both excellent reads), The Sleeping Warrior is only £1.99: The Sleeping Warrior