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HFC EDITORIAL REVIEW - "The Castilians" by V. E. H. Masters

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

You can listen to an author interview at The Hist Fic Chickie podcast with Ms Masters, along with the editorial review HERE


Finalist, Wishing Shelf Book Awards Runner-up, SAW Barbara Hammond Trophy 1546 and Scotland is under attack from Henry VIII, determined to marry his son to the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. A few among the Scottish nobles, for both political and religious reasons, are eager for this alliance too. They kill Cardinal Beaton, who is Mary’s great protector, and take St Andrews Castle, expecting rescue any day from England. Local lad Will is among them, fighting for the Protestant cause. His treasonous activities place his family in grave danger, forcing his sister Bethia into an unwelcome alliance. As the long siege unravels, Bethia and Will struggle over where their loyalties lie and the choices they each must make — whether to save their family, or stay true to their beliefs and follow their hearts This debut novel closely follows the historical events of the siege of St Andrews Castle, and its dramatic re-taking. ‘A clever blend of fact and fiction…gripping action, drama galore, and a dash of romance.' Margaret Skea



The year is 1546 and Scotland is under attack from Henry VIII, determined to marry his son, Edward, to the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. A few among the Scottish nobles, for both political and religious reasons, are eager for this alliance, as well. The story begins with a brutal killing, a necessary one in the eyes of those seeking this union, as they kill Cardinal Beaton, Mary’s great protector, in retaliation for the burning of George Wishart, an advocate for the new Protestant faith, and they capture St Andrews Castle, with hopes of a rescue from the King of England.

While you expect this story to cleave to the historical details, which it does with great finesse, this actually becomes a story about a brother and sister, two young people trying to find their way in the midst of the political and religious upheaval surrounding them.

Will is one of the Castilians, fighting for the Protestant cause, even as he is disturbed at the horrific handling of Beaton’s murder and questions the tactics on more than one occasion. But he is loyal, and this is his strong suit during the entire story, even though his actions bring a shadow over his family, a family still caught in the middle of faithfulness to Rome and listening to the powerful words of zealots like John Knox.

Bethia, his sister, suffers from her brother’s actions in that her father thinks to marry her off quickly before anyone discovers that his son, Will, is party to the uprising. He is a man willing to use his daughter as a financial pawn, attaching her to a man who might give the family a bit of clout, and ignoring any thought of his daughter’s wishes; such was the way in the time period when women were viewed as mere chattel.

Loyalty is a huge theme in this novel – how hard will you fight for something you believe in? So often Will is given the chance to escape, often times urged by his Bethia, but his religious convictions remain powerful, even as his strength withers away in the midst of sickness, disease, and starvation. Bethia’s loyalty to her brother, in trying to protect him, brings her to the brink of her own struggle for survival. Ultimately, both of them must make choices that set them on their future course... which also sets the stage for more novels to follow in their journey (I hope!)

The historical events of the siege of St Andrews Castle, and the murder of Cardinal Beaton, is a story I did not know much about since so many historical novels lean more towards the spectacular court of Henry Tudor and his six wives – and I applaud Ms Masters for taking on this story. I also loved that she used the point of view of these two young people, adding details about a typical Scottish family during the time period, day-to-day concerns and pursuits, and their own worries when it came to politics and religion. Teenagers in Tudor Scotland transforming into strong adults with sturdy opinions about their own future and the future of Scotland - what a great setting!

The use of Scottish words and phrasing added a great flair to the book, perfect authenticity, and made the characters come alive from the page – I enjoyed this aspect very much.

My only critical analysis is the use of the present tense voice. I must admit that I am not a huge fan of this type of writing. Sometimes I was quite thrown-off by this, especially in the beginning when I felt myself having to push through the story in order to get to the thick of things. After settling into this narrative, I started to enjoy the story and more so upon reaching Bethia’s struggle to escape the castle. This descriptive passage was enthralling and gripping, well worth the effort of pushing through the choice of tense choice.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the comparison of the two religious men in the novel – John Knox and Cardinal Beaton. You see two religious devotees from the perspective of these two teenagers, of a man steeped in hypocrisy with his mistress and bastards, carried from place to place with his brash four-poster bed, and red Papal robes, against the red-faced, spittle-spraying trumpeting wordy speeches of a zealot; neither of which you might think engender endearment to their side of the church aisle, yet they do – somehow. We are given a commoner’s glimpse into the splitting of God and worship in 16th-century Scotland, along with the gruesome details of what each side was willing to do to push forward their ideas – stake-burning and fear on one side, and revolution/reformation/murder on the other.

All of this is developed very successfully and flanked by the search for love in the midst of all this chaos. Bethia and her friend, Elspeth, eye each young man as a future prospective husband, just as any young teenage girls would do, giggling over the pros and cons of each; and the soft storyline of Bethia and her first crush brings a sweetness to the harsh realities around them. But, as with most teenage romances, both girls suffer heartbreak and the consequences of their actions, as well as the choices of their families. The outcome after the siege of St Andrews for both Will and Bethia is surprising and one I dare not give away. Readers looking for a different story about Tudor history will enjoy this well-written tale!


Thanks so much for inviting me onto your podcast - had a blast. And thanks for your generous and thought provoking review

DK Marley
DK Marley
Aug 10, 2021
Replying to

You are so very welcome!!

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