Fir for Luck by Barbara Henderson

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Published by Cranachan, 2016.

Fir for Luck is based on real life events and is set during the Highland Clearances of 1841 with flashbacks to the Clearances of 1814. Before I read the book, I had no knowledge of this period in Scottish history and so I’ve found the story particularly fascinating. During the Higland Clearances landowners threw tenants off their land so that they could turn it over to sheep farming instead. It was a particularly brutal time; homes were torched, violence was freely used and some of the tenants were killed. The tenant families were given very short notice and little consideration was given to where they might live instead.

The story is told through the eyes of twelve year old Janet who lives in the tiny village of Ceannabeinne. Janet is a terrific heroine. She’s brave, quick-thinking, adventurous and loyal but she’s also headstrong and defiant. This combination makes her a very relatable character for young readers. They will see aspects of themselves in her and she is also a role model to aspire to.

Ceannabeinne is targeted as a village to be cleared. Anderson, the local landowner, wants to use his land for sheep farming because it’s more profitable and so arranges for a Writ to be served on the villagers, telling them to leave. The book tells of the bravery of the villagers as they try to prevent the Writ being served and of their resistance and resilience as they do all that they can to save their village and livelihoods.

Barbara Henderson populates the village of Ceannabeinne with a rich cast of believable characters: the wise and respected village elder; the haughty residents of the top house; a vindictive schoolmaster; Janet’s ageing grandmother (who lived through the earlier Clearances); and Janet’s family, friends and neighbours. Crucially, we come to care about these people and their plight. We root for them.

It’s not just the characters who are evoked so convincingly, Barbara Henderson has also succeeded in bringing the Scottish Highlands vividly to life. She describes the wild landscape in glorious detail, Gaelic and Scottish words are interwoven into the text, and a traditional way of life is colourfully depicted. I found that I had a very clear picture in my mind’s eye of this remote part of the world almost 200 years ago.

Fir for Luck is a really exciting story. It’s packed full of drama and tension and often had me on the edge of my seat. A very impressive debut.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 10+ (Most of the violence is hinted at rather than explicit.)

Thank you to Cranachan for sending me this book to review. I reviewed this book as part of the Fir for Luck blog tour.

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