Book Review

Review: The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson

Using a clear historical framework from an interesting period in history, The Ninth Child ties together themes around Victorian sensibilities – childbirth, public health, the role of the woman and the realm of something ethereal – against a backdrop of the Scottish Trossachs.

Ninth Child

Title: The Ninth Child
Author: Sally Magnusson
Pages: 336
Publisher: Two Roads (John Murray Press)
Publication Date: 19th March 2020

Set in Glasgow, during a time of cholera outbreaks and public health concerns, Isabel Aird, and her doctor husband, Alexander, their marriage unravelling after multiple miscarriages, decide to follow the public health works and reside in the Trossachs, where a new clean water supply is being linked up from Loch Katrine to Glasgow.

Isabel is struck by the ethereal beauty of the place, a place where she starts to see her lost children playing around the Loch. It’s also a place where she learns to explore her role and intellects, if becoming a mother isn’t one of them.

But there is a strange man, Robert Kirke, roaming the hills, who has nothing to do with the water works. He is strangely intense and forthright, which captures Isabel under some kind of spell. Is that so surprising, in a land where the realms of faerie are not so far from our own?

The historical aspects of this novel were well-researched, well written and the physical and geographical setting of the novel was really well-imagined. It’s hard to write about physical spaces, particularly when your characters are walking all over them, without making them sound muddled or confusing, and Magnusson does this particularly well. I particularly liked the idea of the powder blasts etc disturbing the fae and forcing them to disgorge Kirke.

However, I didn’t particularly warm to the characters, and found Kirsty’s wifie voice somewhat annoying, and the various narrative voices jumping around each chapter sometimes made it hard to follow what was going on – sometimes you had to look ahead for a particular accent or style of speaking to understand who that section was about, before reading back to actually understand what was happening.

Isabel also showed a level of acceptance for all the ‘faerie’ goings on around her that seemed semi-unbelievable. Hearing that someone is dead but not dead but not reflecting on that at all – only to then spend the next few months doing nothing except focusing on being pregnant, with plenty of time for reflection, seemed somewhat jarring.

I enjoyed the inclusion of the letters from Prince Albert/Queen Victoria but feel as though they weren’t as much of a decoy as intended – they weren’t given enough air-time to feel like a viable option in the story, although I did like how their story crossed with Isabel and Alexander’s.

I did enjoy reading the Author’s Note about the fact in the fiction, and what she had used for her research, as well as where she had done her research – much of Magnusson’s time writing was spent on the edge of the Lochs, where her own characters lived, and this really comes through in the writing. It was also interesting to read about the factual grounding behind Robert Kirke – once you read this, then the whole story seems to tie together much more impressively.

Overall, 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson

    1. It’s certainly not bad, and well constructed, but I’ll be honest – I read it more because it was on the backlist than because I was super excited by it!

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