The Last Blast of the Trumpet

Written by Marie MacPherson
Review by Ann Chamberlin

This third and final volume in the novelization of the life of John Knox takes the Scottish reformer from his return to his flock in 1559 after enforced exile to his death in 1572. These years cover the widowed Mary Stewart’s return from France to claim her throne and Scotland for Catholicism with her two eventful marriages that will be much more familiar to readers.

Being dropped in the middle of these characters’ lives is very difficult. Although a list of characters at the beginning helps a little, the 16th century is very difficult on this level. For example, there are many Elizabeths, not least of all is the champion of Protestantism on the English throne. How to make clear to the reader which is which is a challenge of character building and invention. Also, characters can become elevated to new honors and then are referred to by these new names. If skill had been employed to make us invested in certain characters, we might have tolerated this inherent confusion better.

Knox in particular is erratic in his motivations—which may indeed have been the case, but a sympathetic protagonist would not be so hapless. Much more interesting are the characters of Elisabeth Hepburn and her spiritual heir Isabelle. The author postulates that this prioress Elisabeth is the mother of Knox, which is a very interesting if unsubstantiated conflict—but limited in this final third of the trilogy.

Thick use of Scottish vocabulary adds to the voice, but makes reading difficult. A vocabulary list would have helped. Finally, scenes where important events happened offstage and are merely reported by someone—bursting in on a dithering Knox as often as not—do not help flagging interest.