Tuesday 20 August 2019

The Last Balfour

The Last Balfour by Cait Duggan, (HarperCollins Australia), 2019, Pb  
RRP 19.99  ISBN: 9781460757017 Ebook 9781460710791

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking
Here’s a tale of witchcraft set in Scotland in 1597. The story begins when Iona Balfour’s aunt Grizel is about to be executed for being a witch. Before she dies, Grizel tells Iona she must flee from their village and deliver the mysterious family heirloom, a bloodstone, to someone called Ancroft in Edinburgh.

Like many Balfours, Iona knows some magic and this helps her complete the quest. Along the way, though, there are plenty of tears and much blood. The trials of Iona are described in detail:  her hounding by the witchfinder Finster, the betrayal by her childhood sweetheart Dalziel, and her brave attempt to help a village racked by plague. Luckily Iona meets Cal, one of the shape shifters from the forest, who becomes a stalwart friend. When they are captured by the witchfinder, Cal escapes by turning into a raven. Iona is convicted of witchcraft but saved from the flames by the Edinburgh witches led by Ancroft, who turns out to be her long-lost father. The ‘mystery’ of the bloodstone is revealed and the book ends with the possibility of more adventures for Iona and Cal.

The story is action-packed and moves quickly from one dramatic incident to the next. This is Cait Duggan’s first novel. She has done a monumental amount of research, even adapting traditional Scottish spells and incantations to fit her tale. The places and characters described have a completely believable historical reality. Some of the minor characters are particularly interesting and well written, especially Dalziel and Ishbel. Dalziel is deeply conflicted. He works for Finster but cares about Iona and is horrified by what happens. Iona’s sister, Ishbel, is a sympathetic creation who has a miserably sad ending.  

The Last Balfour is best suited to a YA readership as some of the events described are quite harrowing.  

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