The Winter Isles

Written by Antonia Senior
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

This book covers the story of Somerled, the first Lord of the Isles, and the constant battles between the inhabitants of Scotland’s northern islands and the Viking raids during the 12th century. Little is known about him, although he appears to have belonged to a fairly powerful Norse-Gaelic family.  His father, GilleBride, appears to have conducted a marriage alliance with Malcolm, a son of Alexander I of Scotland, and a claimant to the Scottish throne.  His name was a common Viking name meaning ‘Summer Warrior’.  Through marital alliance and military conquest, he rose in prominence and seized control of the Kingdom of the Isles.

Antonia Senior has woven this tale around what is known about him and what fits in to make a good story. For instance, she states in the historical notes at the end of the book that Eimhear is her own invention. On the whole it works to produce a powerful and compelling story, and from the back cover has been favourably compared with the writings of Bernard Cornwell, among others.  But although I enjoyed reading it very much, I did find the constant change of viewpoint from Somerled to Eimhear with every chapter irritating.   For me it broke up the continuity of the story.  However, Somerled was a very real person, and his descendants include the MacDonald clan while his title, Lord of the Isles, is still in use today, currently held by the Prince of Wales. Recommended.