‘Grizel once told me that magic and fire are kindred things. If you understand how to work with fire it will warm your home, cook your porridge and chase away the shadows at night. But if you fail to heed its power, well… it only takes one spark to burn down the thatch.’
Iona Balfour is 14-years-old and up until now has lived with her Aunt Grizel and sister Ishbel in Heatherbrae.
Set during The Great Scottish Witch Hunt, the story opens with Iona desperately trying to find her aunt Grizel who is shortly to be hanged for witchcraft. Grizel has spent many years helping the locals with ailments and the birth of their children but when a neighbour dies in childbirth her husband looks for someone to blame and reports Grizel to the authorities.
There is no escape for Grizel but when Iona finally speaks to her, she warns that Iona and her sister must leave their home as they are in danger. Iona is instructed to first locate the family bloodstone, which she is now the guardian of. Then she needs to travel to Edinburgh and find a man called Angus Ashcroft and deliver the stone to the Guild of the Green Lion.
With danger imminent Iona tries to convince Ishbel to leave with her but as she has married Gregor – a councillor – she believes they will spare her. Frightened and alone, Iona starts her journey into the forest as she must keep off the main highways. In hot pursuit is Finster, the official Witch Hunter, and despite her close friend Dalziel offering to accompany and assist her, Iona is suspicious of his motives. Along the way she encounters many who want her power for themselves and those who misuse the power that they have been given.
On the road she meets Cal – and there are hints that this will become a romantic relationship – Cal proves himself to be a good friend and encourages Iona to explore and develop the power that she does have and use it for good.
However, there are many conflicting forces at work and there is no knowing what the outcome will be – will Iona honour her Aunts words and deliver the stone or will those who want to stop her have their way?
This debut novel by Australian author Cait Duggan is suspenseful, highly engaging and transports you back to a time when it’s hard to believe that people were filled with so much suspicion and loathing for difference. Drawing on many historical elements of the time and the use of Scottish terms for herbs and local greetings, The Last Balfour is compelling reading for the 14+ and their parents!
Cait Duggan has spent the best part of twenty years working in commercial law, while harbouring a secret ambition to become a writer. This led her to undertake a number of writing courses, studying at the Writers’ Studio and Faber Writing Academy. As she loves history and is obsessed with magic, Cait writes fantasy and magical realism for children and young adults. The Last Balfour is her first novel.