The Raven’s Heart

The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder.

Despite the topic and setting, the author of this book is an Australian, born in Sydney and now living near Byron Bay. She was inspired to write this novel about Mary Queen of Scots after travelling to Scotland to find the origins of her own surname. After researching her family history and visiting the ruins of Blackadder House on the banks of the Blackadder River, the idea of ‘The Raven’s Heart’ was born.

The story is based on a ‘real’ historical character, Captain William Blackadder, and some of the real events from 16th Century Scotland. The story depicts William Blackadder as the missing heir to the Blackadder castle, whose daughter Alison (a fictional character) enters the Queen’s service to try to find a way to persuade the Queen to restore the family lands and castle to them. Facing treachery, betrayal, and intrigue around every corner, Alison is soon fighting for her life.

Although set in the 16th Century, the Raven’s Heart reads as a more contemporary book. There is no attempt to replicate the language of the period, and while the clothing of  the time is described, the author notes at the end of the book that in her research she discovered that ‘Mary Queen of Scots, who was exceptionally tall for a woman, loved to disguise herself as a man and wander the streets of Edinburgh in secret’. The  Queen was also a good horse rider and loved to ride astride. In the book, Alison often disguises herself as a man to hide her identity, spy for the Queen, or escape dangerous situations. Many of the conventions of the time seem to have been treated casually by Mary Queen of Scots – not just clothing, but religeous and sexual ethics.