Book 5 of the “Gaslight Chronicles” features the dashing Connor McKay and opens with his rescue of widow Belinda Danvers from a jail cell. She has been wrongly accused of witchcraft and slated for a hasty burning. Connor uses his magick to spirit Belinda away, and they fall into bed as they escape to his family home. Still smarting from his rejection by Wink in Moonlight & Mechanicals, Connor marries Belinda as a way to keep her safe from the law. Connor and the Order of the Round Table then realize that there is a pattern of persecution in the north of England and Scotland. As they set a trap for the perpetrators, they are attacked, and Connor is injured, while Belinda foils a kidnapper and a powerful wizard. Through their shared adventures, Belinda and Connor realize their true love and shared passion.
Verdict Excellent writing and a lively plot balanced with bubbling romance make this another outstanding contribution to this steampunk series.—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Lib., CA
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Scottish Lowlands, September 1859
"Guilty as charged on both countswitchcraft and murder."
Belinda Danvers gasped as the sheriff pronounced the verdict. Her knees tried to buckle, but she refused to swoon in front of these lunatics, even if they hadn't given her anything to eat since breakfast the day before. Crying out her denial was equally pointless. She'd already protested her innocence until her throat was raw. The village elders had decided she was a witch. They'd convinced the sheriff and there was nothing more to be done about it. She listened to the sentencing with nausea roiling through her empty stomach.
"The murder charge will be sent to the High Court of the Justiciary to decide. As witchcraft is a local matter, our judgment on that will take precedence." The sheriff banged his gavel. "The murder charge will be dealt with posthumously. The witch is to be burned at the stake, tomorrow at dawn, in the center of the village green. May God have mercy on her soul."
Don't cower to these jackals. Her head held high, she glared across at Squire MacLellan, the magistrate, who stared back with a snide grin. Alderman Douglas, beside him, radiated nothing but venomous fury. On the alderman's far side, his cousin Mr. Engle looked on with a beatific smile. Here was the man at the root of all this. No one had called her witch in the ten years she'd lived in Shadwicknot until he came. If she had possessed the power to curse a man, he'd have been the one, along with his lecherous cousin and maybe even the pompous squire. She'd have never taken her anger out on innocent townsfolkespecially children. She blinked back a tear at the thought of those three young lives lost during the last month to cholera.
The sheriff, who'd come from Dumfries just to try her, banged his gavel on the wooden table that served as a makeshift bench at the front of the village hall. There was something not quite right about his robes and wigthey were shabbier than she'd have expected and didn't fit properly, which didn't make sense as the sheriff should be a wealthy man. The wig kept slipping down over his left eyebrow. Was he truly the sheriff? And if this was a trial, why hadn't she been given a chance to hire a barrister? Not that there was one in Shadwick, or that anyone here would have represented her anyway.
As the bailiffsotherwise known as Squire MacLellan's two stoutest footmenhauled her back to the tiny gaol, the chains around her ankles clanked and weighed her down. She looked out over the sea of faces, people she'd considered friends. People she'd helped with her cough tinctures and burn salves. She'd trusted them, considered herself a part of this community for over a decade.
Now they all looked away. Here in the Scottish borderlands, old beliefs still ran strong. They lived in an era where a telephone could allow a person to speak with someone in London, or a dirigible could take one to Paris in mere hours. But let one minor cholera epidemic sweep the area, and everyone was all too ready to blame the village witch.
As they marched her toward the gaol, she stole a glance at the clock on the village hall. Half past two. Almost teatime. Sunrise would be neither early nor late this close to the autumn equinox. Even giving them some time to bumble about, and a little while for the fire to take her, in less than twenty hours, she'd be dead.