What a disappointment.
Here was a book with a great premise: a historical fiction set in Edinburgh and telling the story of the last man to be trialled for blasphemy in the UK.
Unfortunately, the book turned out to be less of an investigation into the historical details of Thomas Aikenhead’s life and trial, and more of a study of missed chances. Missed chances for the storyteller, that is.
If you’re setting out to write a story that has a charge of blasphemy at its heart, don’t forget to discuss what blasphemy is and how it was viewed in the time the story is set. Or, if this was a fairly recent law (which it was in this case) how it came about. I want to know these things. This is what I came here for together with this next aspect:
The trial. Surely, if the premise of the book is that it is about the last person put to trial for blasphemy, it is not too much to expect at least an attempt at a 17th century version of a court room drama?!
But no, we basically got that young Thomas was arrested, put in jail, had a brief private exchange with the people who accused him (this part had to be made up by the author as this certainly would not have been in the official records), then his charge is read in court, and a couple of pages later the judges put on their black caps… Ugh.
I need more than this. I need to know how the trial was handled. Did he have a defense? Did the legal system at the time allow for a legal aide to be provided? What considerations were made by the court? How come the prosecution ask for a penalty that should only have been available for a third offence, but not a first as this was? How come the court followed through with this? What was the public reaction?
I have so many questions. But, yet again, we get only a very few pages right at the end of the book.
Btw, I marked this review as containing spoilers, but really since the author and the publishers have decided to give away the outcome of the trial in the very first line on the back-cover of the book, I might not have given a damn about the spoiler warning.
Just as I really could not give a damn about the first 75% of the book which were all building up to the offence, the prosecution, trial, and punishment.
So, apart from a book of missed chances, this also was a book of misunderstanding between me and the author – I skipped much of the book between pages 99 and 158, and the author somehow managed to skip writing a story worth reading.