The Betrayal of Maggie Blairby Elizabeth Laird
Betrayed by one of her own accusers, Maggie must try to save her
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In seventeenth-century Scotland, saying the wrong thing can lead to banishment—or worse. Accused of being a witch, sixteen-year-old Maggie Blair is sentenced to be hanged. She escapes, but instead of finding shelter with her principled, patriotic uncle, she brings disaster to his door.
Betrayed by one of her own accusers, Maggie must try to save her uncle and his family from the king’s men, even if she has to risk her own life in the process.
"This is a beautifully crafted novel to be savored for its symbolic language, historical atmosphere, and vivid characters."—School Library Journal, starred review
"Laird celebrates courage, survival, and the spark of independence that carries Maggie through."—Publishers Weekly
"Fine and effortless prose, creating instantly gripping characters and setting ."—Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
I was the first one to see the dead whale lying on the sand at
Scalpsie Bay. It must have been washed up in the night. I could imagine it flopping out of the sea, thrashing its tail, and opening and shutting the cavern of its mouth. It was huge and shapeless,
a horrible dead thing, and it looked as if it would feel slimy if you dared to touch it. I crept up to it cautiously. There were monsters in the deep, I knew, and a great one, the Leviathan,
which the Lord had made to be the terror of fishermen. Was this one of them? Would it come to life and devour me?
The sand was ridged into ripples by the outgoing tide,
which had left the usual orange lines of seaweed and bright white stripes of shells. The tide had also scooped out little pools around the dead beast’s sides, and crabs were already scuttling there, as curious as I was.
It was a cold day in December. The sun had barely risen,
and I’d pulled my shawl tightly around my head and shoulders.
But it wasn’t only the chill of the wet sand beneath my bare feet that made me shiver. There was a strangeness in the air.
Across the water I could already make out the Isle of
Arran, rearing up out of the sea, the tops of its mountains hidden as usual in a crown of clouds. I’d seen Arran a dozen times a day, every day of my life, each time I’d stepped out the door of my grandmother’s cottage. I knew it so well that
I hardly ever noticed it.
But today as I looked up at the mountains from the dead whale in front of me, the island seemed to shift, and for a moment I thought it was moving toward me, creeping across the water. It was coming for me, wanting to swallow me up,
along with the beach and Granny’s cottage, Scalpsie Bay, and the whole of the Isle of Bute.
And then beyond Arran, out there in the sea, a shaft of sunlight pierced through the clouds and laid a golden path across the gray water, tingeing the dead whale with brilliant light. The clouds were dazzled with glory, and I was struck with a terror so great that my legs stiffened and I couldn’t move.
“It’s the Lord Jesus,” I whispered. “He’s coming now, to judge the living and the dead.”
I waited, my hands clamped in a petrified clasp, expecting to see Christ walk down the sunbeam and across the water,
angels flying on gleaming wings around him. The minister had said there would be trumpets as the saved rose up in the air like flocks of giant birds to meet the Lord, but down here on the ground there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth as the damned were sucked into Hell by the Evil One.
“Am I saved, Lord Jesus? Will you take me?” I cried out loud. “And Granny too?”
The clouds were moving farther apart, and the golden path was widening, making the white crests on the little waves sparkle like the clothes of the Seraphim.
I was certain of it then. I wasn’t one of the Chosen to rise with Jesus in glory. I was one of the damned, and Granny was too.
“No!” I shrieked. “Not yet! Give me another chance,
And then I must have fallen down because the next thing
I remember was Granny saying, “She’s taken a fit, the silly wee thing. Pick her up, won’t you?”
I was only half conscious again, but I knew it was Mr.
Macbean’s rough hands painfully holding my arms and the gruffvoice of Samuel Kirby complaining as he held my legs.
“What are you doing, you dafties?” Granny shouted in the rough, angry voice I dreaded. “Letting her head fall back like that! Trying to break her neck, are you? Think she’s a sack of oatmeal?”
Behind me, above the crunch of many feet following us up the beach toward our cottage, I could hear anxious murmurs.
“The creature’s the size of a kirk! And the tail on it, did you see? It’ll stink when it rots. Infect the air for weeks, so it will.”
And the sniping tongues were busy as usual.
“Hark at Elspeth! Shouting like that. Evil old woman.
Why does she want to be so sharp? They should drop the girl and let the old body carry her home herself.”
Then came the sound of our own door creaking back on its leather hinge, the smell of peat smoke, and the soft tail of
Sheba the cat brushing against my dangling hand.
They dropped me down on the pile of straw in the corner
that I used as a bed, and a moment later Granny had shooed them out of the cottage. I was quite back in my wits by then, and I started to sit up.
“Stay there,” commanded Granny.
She was standing over me, frowning as she stared at me.
Her mouth was pulled down hard at the corners, and the stiffblack hairs on her chin were quivering. They were sharp,
those bristles, but not as sharp as the bristles in her soul.
“Now then, Maggie. What was all that for? Why did you faint? What did you see?”
“Nothing, Granny. The whale . . .”
She shook her head impatiently.
“Never mind the whale. While you were away, in the faint. Was there a vision?”
“No. I just— everything was black. Before that I thought
“What? What did you see? Do I have to pull it out of you?”
“The sky looked strange, and there was the whale— it scared me
— and I thought that Jesus was coming. Down from the sky. I thought it was the Last Day.”
She stared at me a moment longer. There wasn’t much light in the cottage, only a square of brightness that came through the open door and a faint glow from the peat burning in the middle of the room, but I could see her eyes glittering.
“The whale’s an omen. It means no good. It didn’t speak to you?”
“No! It was dead. I thought the Lord Jesus was coming,
“Hmph.” She turned away and pulled on the chain that hung from the rafter, holding the cauldron in place over the fire. “That’s nothing but kirk talk. You’re a disappointment to me, Maggie. Your mother had it, the gift of far-seeing,but you’ve nothing more in your head than what’s been put there by the minister. You’re your father all over again, stubborn and blind and selfish. My Mary gave you nothing of herself at all. If I hadn’t delivered you into this world with my own hands, I’d have thought you were changed at birth.”
Granny knew where to plunge her dagger and twist it for good measure. There was no point in answering her. I bit my lip, stood up, and shook the straws offthe rough wool of my skirt.
“Shall I milk Blackie now?”
“After you’ve touched a dead whale? You’ll pass on the bad luck and dry her milk up for good. You’re more trouble than you’re worth, Maggie. Always were, always will be.”
“I didn’t touch the whale. I only . . .”
She raised a hand and I ducked.
“Get away up the hill and cut a sack of peat. The stack’s low already, or had you been too full of yourself to notice?”
Cutting peat and lugging it home was the hardest work of all, and usually I hated it, but today, in spite of the rain that was now sweeping in from the sea, I was glad to get out of the cottage and run away to the glen. I usually went the long way, up the firm path that went around and about before it reached the peat cuttings, but today I plunged straight on through the bog, trampling furiously through the mass of reeds and flags and the treacherous bright grass that hid the pools of water, not hearing the suck of the mud as I pulled my feet out, not feeling the wetness that seeped up the bottom of my gown, not even noticing the scratches from the prickly gorse as it tore at my arms.
“An evil old woman. They were right down there. That’s what you are.” Away from Granny, I felt brave enough to answer back. “I am like my mam. I’ve her hair, and her eyes,
and her smile, so Tam says.”
Most people called old Tam a rogue, a thief, a lying,
drunken rascal, living in his tumbledown shack like a pig in a sty. But he was none of those things to me. He’d known my mother, and I knew he’d never lie about her to me.
I don’t remember my mother. She was Granny’s only child,
and she died of a fever when I was a very little girl. I just about remember my father. He was a big man, not given to talking much. He was a rover by nature, Tam said. He came to the Isle of Bute from the mainland to fetch the Laird of Keames’s cattle and drive them east across the hills to sell in Glasgow. He was only meant to stay in Bute for a week or two, while the cattle were rounded up for him, but he chanced on my mother as she walked down the lane to the field to milk Blackie one warm
June evening. The honeysuckle was in flower and the wild roses too, and it was all over with him at once, so Tam said.
“Never a love like it, Maidie,” Tam told me. “Don’t you listen to your granny. A child born of love you are, given to love, made for love.”
“Granny said the sea took my father,” I asked Tam once.
“What did she mean?”
I’d imagined a great wave curling up the beach, twining around my father’s legs, and sucking him back into the depths.
“An accident, Maidie. Nothing more.” Tam heaved a sigh.
“Your father was taking the cattle to the mainland up by Colintraive,
making them swim across the narrows there. He’d done it a dozen times before. The beasts weren’t easy— lively young
steers they were— and one of them was thrashing about in the water as if a demon possessed it. Perhaps a demon did,
for the steer caught your father on the head with its horn, and it went right through his temple. He went down under the water, and when he was washed up a week later, there was a wound from his eyebrow to the line of his hair deep enough to put your hand inside.”
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Laird has been nominated five times for the Carnegie Medal and has won numerous awards, including the Children’s Book Award. She and her husband divide their time between London and Edinburgh.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Before I gush about why I loved this book, I just need to say that I love the cover. From a photography standpoint, the photo is spectacular; the silhouette of the girl, against the expansive background and cloudy sky, with her reflection in the foreground...it's gorgeous! I also love the title, which fits the book perfectly. Now, about the book: I think the strongest point of The Betrayal of Maggie Blair, is that it features a set of strong characters. Maggie is a great character, who doesn't always know what to do, or how to stand up for herself. She does know what is right and wrong, though, and this knowledge helps her to do what needs to be done in the story. She constantly pushes herself to do what she knows is right, even if doing so puts her in a bad position. Maggie's grandmother is quite the character, at times giving meaning to the phrase "old hag." But even she has a depth to her that shows you why she seems a little rough. Other characters like Tam, Annie, and Hugh Blair, are all given extreme personalities, but are developed well enough that you believe them. The Blair family was especially interesting to read about. They are what seemed like an accurate depiction of a presbyterian "rebel" family (also known as Covenanters) during the time period when King Charles II (and then King James the VII) began ruling the church, and hunting down those who refused to conform, or to recognize him as the head of the church. The Blair family has strong (if a bit extreme) morals, and refuses to conform, which brings some interesting and real conflicts into the book. In fact, everything in this book seemed horribly real. The witch trials were frightening, and the way the soldiers treated the Covenanters was utterly terrible. Laird really brought the time period alive, reminding the reader that not all of history is pretty. Side note: I actually didn't know about "Covenanters," or the "Killing times" until I read this book, and was so intrigued, that I went and researched it after reading. It was a very interesting time in history. Now, the book does have a bit of a slow pace to it. Things happen over the course of about a year (maybe even a little longer; I admit that I didn't pay that much attention to the timeline), so the action isn't immediate, and doesn't all happen at once with one huge climax. Instead, things happen over time, there are many obstacles to overcome (danger is always lurking), and the character growth is subtle. But it is exactly how I like my historicals: rich in detail, true to the time period, and not paced according to today's standards. Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Who are U?"she snarled
The Betrayal of Maggie Blair is nothing like what I would have expected it to be. It sounds like it's a paranormal book with witches and the like, but it's much more a historical take on a girl accused of being a witch and the lengths she goes to to save her own life, and later discover who she is. Maggie Blair starts off as being a shy, meager girl, but her growth is astounding. By the end of the book, she is far stronger and more independent than I ever would have imagined. Her journey to get there is full of ups and downs (mostly downs), yet she somehow perseveres through everything. Throughout the entire book, the religiosity of the times is ever-present. Maggie isn't a very religious person, in a very religious time. She's not sure if she even believes that God has any hand in what goes on in her life. Her beliefs are much baser, going off of her emotions and what she knows to be true. It's hard not to feel for Maggie, with all of her losses. Her worst times are backed by some stellar secondary characters though. Tam, a piper and an old friend of Maggie's family, turned out to be so much more than I thought he'd be. Maggie's Uncle Blair is also quite the striking man, as well. Then there's Annie, who made me want to reach back and give her a good, solid punch in the nose. If a character can incite that much feeling from me, then it's always a good thing. All that being sad, The Betrayal of Maggie Blair does start off very slow. The elegant language held me long enough though, and once things started happening with Maggie and her Granny, I couldn't turn away. The story lulls quite a bit in the middle as well, but Maggie's story is one to stick with. The Betrayal of Maggie Blair is based in part on the author's own seventeenth century Scottish family. Elizabeth Laird has been able to create the character of Maggie and give her this vivacious family that jumps off the pages. While I expected more paranormal, this almost fact-based tale of a girl making her way in a world that doesn't exactly accept her, surprised me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was hoping the mix of historical fiction, the idea of witches, and the young adult genre would make a good combination. In the end, the story was ok but was very heavy in the biblical references and a slow read. Maggie Blair has had a hard life. Her mother died during childbirth and her father died during when of the cattle drive river crossings. She's been living with her grandmother who seems cold and is not very well liked by the community. Maggie longs to be normal and I think to feel loved. The local rich farmer has coveted her grandmother's cottage/land for years. When her grandmother delivers the farmers baby, she predicts it will die soon. When he dies, an opportunity presents itself and grandma is accused of being a witch. The finger soon points to Maggie as well. Maggie escapes after being sentenced to hang, but grandma doesn't. Maggie crosses a great distance dressed as a boy and lands at the doorstep of her uncle, who has thought all along that his brother died without children. But, she's basically traded one form of persecution for another. Her uncle's family is deeply religious, but do not practice according to the laws. One day he is captured by the king's soldier's and imprisoned. Maggie feels guilty because all this might not have happened if she hasn't been followed by one of her false accusers, a maid in the rich farmer's house. She's trying to escape her own persecution and she doesn't care who she steps on to get what she wants. A good portion of the book deals with Maggie traveling far and wide to locate her uncle and save him. I was amazed at all the the things she goes through for someone she still doesn't know that well. She grows in her own convictions and becomes an amazingly strong young women. In a time that most people don't see much outside of were they were born, Maggie manages to see much of Scotland. Her courage and determination were amazing. The whole situation caused her to look at the world in a completely different way. I would have really enjoyed this story more without all the biblical references. I understood the religious persecutions and didn't feel like the characters needed to be quoting the bible all the time. I also found the story really slow at times (maybe that was due to the biblical references). I did enjoy the story for the most part.
This was a really interesting historical novel, and I'm glad that it's making its debut in the United States this month. As the synopsis states, it deals with Scotland in the seventeenth century, an aspect we don't study very often in the States, yet the events in this novel mirror events in the U.S., specifically the Salem witch trials. I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel as Maggie and her grandmother are accused of witchcraft. I think what I enjoyed the most about this is that Laird never explicitly states whether the grandmother and Maggie are actually innocent. Laird did a phenomenal job writing this portion of the novel, and I found myself pulled in different directions as the story unfolded. At times I was convinced that Maggie and her grandmother were truly innocent only to be confronted with information that made me later questions their innocence-and the answer is never blatantly stated. I enjoyed being able to figure it out for myself, without Laird telling me what to think; this was refreshing as I was able to make my own decision based on the text. However, what the synopsis doesn't tell you, and what you need to know, is that this novel also has extreme religious undertones, and only half the novel deals with witchery. Many of the characters are highly religious and they quote from the text often, which is fine, but not my forte. I understand that religion is imperative for this historical novel as it deals not only with false accusations of witchery, but also with King Charles' attempt to force protestants into submission. However, I found myself skimming large passages where the characters rehash previous statements, or quote excessively from the Bible, and I just didn't enjoy that portion of the novel. This, of course, is a personal preference, and you may come to a different conclusion as you read; it just isn't for me. Three and a half stars.
One thing I dislike, is the ignorance people have when it comes to the bible. People think that just because they think they know it, they know whats best for everyone. The Betrayal of Maggie Blair is just that. Religious people ignorant in what they read that they killed, hurt, accused innocent people, women mostly of being witches. And whats worse is those church going people who put everyone down using the bible are worse then everyone else. This story is very touching but also hurtful to read. As the reader follows Maggie, we see and feel every emotion that she goes through. Hurt, rage, sadness, fear. I wanted so badly to slap all those stupid people for being dumb. And whats ironic is that those people who accused Maggie weren't perfect either. They were hiding their sins thinking that they can hide from God using his words against him. And boy did the truth ever did come out. The plot is breath-taking. Every turn of the page lead me to more and more anger as I see the betrayal of Maggie grow and grow. Ms Laird wrote a fantastic book that showcased every little detail in the witch trials. I was literally holding my every waking breathe hoping for the best for Maggie. It just seems that nothing let up for her. Now, while most witches trials all lead to a guilty verdict, I was glad that there is that one and rare good ending for some girls who were accused. It wasn't the best ending. Maggie went through so much that nothing that those people say or do now could ever take back what they did to her. I am glad that Maggie had some kind of good outcome for her. Her strength amazed me. AMAZED ME! She held her head up high and did not stand for what those people did.
What a remarkable historical piece! The Betrayal Of Maggie Blair weaves an incredible story, rich in history and characters, sure to enchant you to turn the pages faster to find the hard truths of witchcraft and heresy. At first, I could not make head or tails of Maggie Blair. Did I like her? Did I find her too naive and easily swayed by charismatic preachers? Will she be hanged or burnt on the false accusations of witchcraft? As these questions churned in my head, I followed Maggie's plight and found myself slowly falling in love with this book! Elizabeth Laird really throws everything plus the kitchen sink into Maggie's story and gives us insights into what it might have been liked back then when religion played a big part in people's lives - and witchcraft and heresy were starting to cause panic. All the characters in The Betrayal Of Maggie Blair gave the story much flavor. The villains, the heroes, the romantics, the devout, the liars, the betrayed, the power-hungry - it was hard to let everyone go at the end. Each had a role to play in this drama, and they played it extremely well. No one was a cookie-cutter character, having both qualities to redeem and damn them. Even the villains tugged at my sympathies, although they certainly deserved their unfortunate end as time went on. If you enjoyed The Witch Of Blackbird Pond, The Crucible, or falling into the time period where they chased after witches, I trust you will find The Betrayal Of Maggie Blair just as magical!
To say I enjoyed this book is an understatement. Elizabeth Laird has created a setting so detailed you are mentally transported back into 17th century Scotland. This is the story of 16 year old Maggie who lives with her grandmother after her father's death. Her grandmother is not liked by most of the people around her. As a bitter and hateful old woman she spits her venom on everyone around her. When a newborn dies the neighbors have a way to get rid of her. They accuse her of being a witch and burn her. This was often the case during this time period. It didn't take much to be accused of witchcraft. Maggie escapes her grandmother's fate through the help of a family friend. She makes her way to her uncle's house where she is welcomed. She soon learns things are not going well for her uncle. The king wants to remove God from the church and set himself up as supreme being. It is kind of like the story of Daniel in the Bible where those who did not bow to the king and worship him were thrown in the lions den. In this story the king has men watching the people. They have secret meetings to try to figure out what to do about the king. When many of them are arrested Maggie finds herself doing whatever she has to do just to save her family. Problems with religious differences is not new. It can be traced back to Bible times. Elizabeth Laird has used her ancestors to help bring this plight to light. There was a lot of Scottish history that I probably would not have learned if it had not been for this book. I really enjoyed it and can't wait to recommend it to my friends. Unfortunately they will have to wait until April to read it. But it is worth the wait.
In this book, we're introduced to Maggie Blair who is orphaned and lives with her Grandmother in 17th Century rural Scotland. The book is peppered with references to Laird's own ancestry and landmarks, and has some pretty solid writing. A shame to say what a disappointment the book was. I was completely bombarded with scripture and bible verses and it seemed that the main focus of the story was God and Religion which makes sense, as Maggie is wrongfully accused of being a witch. I think that Laird just took the concept and ran with it. Overall, I found the historical setting fairly authentic, with allowances given to help make it accessible. I felt empathy for Maggie, yet there was a distance throughout my reading, I never felt totally immersed and didn't really feel that connection with the main character as I normally do when I read a book. The main problem that I had with Maggie was that she was so superstitious and ignorant, so she fell short. I give this book a 3/5 because the writing, and character development was done really well.