Friday, October 20, 2023

Witch of the Glens by Sally Watson #1962Club

Title: Witch of the Glens
Author: Sally Watson
Publication: Viking, hardcover, 1962
Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction
Setting: 17th century Scotland
This week Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting the 1962 Club, and I finally found an American author to feature.

Description: At 17, Kelpie is a spirited young woman who knows only the life of a gypsy, traveling throughout Scotland with abusive Old Mina and Bogle. Their nomadic lifestyle involves stealing, begging, or telling fortunes, and escaping to the next town before anyone can arrest them. Mina is reputed to be a witch but it is Kelpie who seems to have second sight and sometimes her visions frighten her. When Kelpie encounters two young men from the Cameron clan, they bring her home to Glenfern to recuperate from an accident she has exploited, and Mina instructs her to stay there as a spy.

Ian, the son of a minor chieftain of Clan Cameron, and his friend, Alex MacDonald, have come home from studying at Oxford and plan to join the Scots defending the King. Kelpie is not interested in politics, other than avoiding the Covenanters who would burn her and Mina as witches. However, the kindness of the Camerons makes Kelpie see reluctantly there are other ways to live than through trickery and deceit, and she finds she has a part to play in the conflict.

My Impression: It is 1644, and Civil War has broken out in Scotland between those loyal to Charles I and the Covenanters led by the brutal Duke of Argyll. A chance encounter brings Kelpie and the two young Scots together:
The lads looked back at her. A scrawny waif it was, tattered and unbelievably dirty. The tangled dark hair, apparently never touched by water or comb, fell over the thin face in a way that reminded Ian of shaggy Highland cattle – except that these eyes were unlike those of any cattle that ever lived. They were long and black-fringed, set at a slant in the narrow face, and strangely ringed. Around each pupil was a wide circle of smoky blue. Astonishing eyes, almost alarming! Where had he seen them before?

While Ian stared in wonder and pity, Alex made a few further observations of his own. He noted the high cheekbones and the pointed chin and the wicked slant of black brows and the short upper lip – giving rather the effect, thought Alex, of a wicked elfin creature, or perhaps a witch. Amused but wary, he sat back and let his foster brother make up his mind. Ian wouldn’t have been noticing, of course, that the wee briosag threw herself into the path on purpose. Ian had the way of always believing the best of everyone.
While Kelpie is staying at Glenfern, home of the Camerons, she becomes unexpectedly fond of the family, especially little Mhairi, an affectionate child. Their kindness to the outspoken gypsy touches something inside Kelpie, although she spars with Alex MacDonald. When Mina and Bogle turn up to claim her for their own illicit purpose, she is reluctant to leave until they threaten Mhairi. Back on the road with them, Kelpie is exposed to the realities of war as well as the danger of being considered a witch. She is tormented by one of the visions she sees and ultimately has to rely on her instinct and not on what she sees in the crystal. The courage and irrepressible personality possessed by all Watson heroines are what make this book appealing, as well as the Highland setting.
At one point, Bogle says Kelpie was kidnapped, which, along with her distinctive blue-ringed eyes, led me to believe she would discover her birth family at some point, but that never happened and she does not remember anything but the vagrant life of gypsies. I will have to ask my friends Michele and Carla, experts on Sally Watson, where these eyes turn up elsewhere in her books, as I know they are interrelated.

I suspect that Sally Watson (1924-2022) read Margaret Irwin because her depiction of the charismatic Marquess of Montrose reminds me of The Proud Servant (or possibly all we Montrose fans are alike in our admiration of him). Watson was a bit like one of her own characters, a vivid personality who followed her own drummer. She served as a WAVE (the U.S. Navy's corps of female members) during WWII, then soon after the war, wrote her first book, Highland Rebel, in just three weeks (which I read for the #1954 Club). Several of her books have been brought back into print by Image Cascade.
Source: eBook/Hoopla. This is my twenty-third book for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Intrepid Reader.


Mallika@ LiteraryPotpourri said...

Watson is a new to me author, but I enjoy picking up historical fiction every so often, for adults or YA. Feisty and strong heroines are always appealing. Must look her up.

Anonymous said...

I’m not sure about the eyes, which I remember as being uniquely Kelpie’s, but Lauchlan from The Hornet’s Nest had the Second Sight. I am anguished to say my Watson books are hiding somewhere so I can’t check on this, but I always thought Lauchlan and Ronald were descendants of Alex and Kelpie. (This comment is from Carla)

TracyK said...

This sounds like a very good read and educational. I will have to see if I can get a copy, or maybe get an ebook version.

CLM said...

I read a few of Watson's books from the library as a girl but had forgotten about them until several of my friends persuaded Image Cascade to reissue them. If you have access to Hoopla, you might be able to read them as ebooks; otherwise, probably very hard to find. She is known for her feisty heroines which made them appealing reads to girls in the 50s or 60s.

Katrina said...

I had never heard of this author before. I'm amazed by your breadth of knowledge regarding authors and particularly those with a Scottish link.

CLM said...

The Scottish links have always interested me and her books are very lively although I wonder if you would find errors in her books. She was American but lived in Britain for many years and I think that was where her heart was.

I definitely benefited from growing up pre-Internet. I can only imagine how much time I would have wasted instead of reading.

Anonymous said...

This is Michele, who is definitely NOT a Sally Watson expert, but I do know that Kelpie is mentioned in Jade - she was Rory's grandmother. I'm not home so can't check my copy to see if his eyes were similar to Kelpie's, but I'll do so later. I believe Lauchlin in The Hornet's Nest was also a descendant, but again I'd have to check.

The seven best-known books (and the ones I read over and over) were all reissued in paperback by Image Cascade, and are still available. The publisher also released them all as Kindle editions. Witch of the Glens, my personal favorite, managed to slip into the public domain, and I've seen it on, but as Joy Canfield from Image Cascade gave Sally's work another chance in the book world, if possible please buy the book from her.

Susan R. and I made a Wikipedia page for Sally years ago, which can be found here: It is really just an overview, but we wanted to recognize her in the wider world.

Constance, I loved your review, and I hope Sally gets many more readers because of it!