Dance to the Storm
Narrated by Steve Worsley
Dance to the Storm is the second book in the Storm Over Scotland trilogy by author and historian Maggie Craig, and if you enjoy meaty, well-researched historical fiction with a compelling, star-crossed romance at its heart, then I suggest these books might be right up your alley! I’ll say straight off though that this is absolutely not a standalone and that you really do need to have read or listened to book one, Gathering Storm, before tackling this one. I listened to it some years ago and even I needed a refresher course as to who was who and what happened because there’s been a gap of six years between books. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait so long for book three!
A quick recap. It’s 1743 and Captain Robert Catto is recalled from fighting in Europe by the Lord President of Scotland to become captain of the town guard in Edinburgh. But that’s just a cover for his real mission, which is to track down a Jacobite agent and member of the Pretender’s inner circle believed to have travelled to the city. Robert has information leading him to suspect that respected surgeon and apothecary Patrick Rankeillor may be harbouring the traitor; Rankeillor, his daughter and all those in his immediate circle are known to be dedicated to the Jacobite cause, and Robert is sure that they planning on spiriting the agent safely away from Edinburgh. During his encounters with Rankeillor’s spirited daughter Kirsty, Robert is often overbearing, sarcastic and downright rude, initially as a shock tactic but later as a way of trying to put a stop to his growing interest in her. Kirsty is similarly smitten and desperately trying to ignore the attraction that insists on sparking between her and the handsome captain, but given that they’re on opposite sides, with Kirsty committed to a cause Robert has good reason to despise, they both know that nothing can come of it.
Events at the end of Gathering Storm mean that Robert is going to be faced with some very difficult choices. The Jacobite agent has escaped the city along with Patrick Rankeillor, and Robert knows Kirsty was involved – more out of loyalty to her father than anything else, he suspects. But his overwhelming instinct is to keep her part in the escape hidden, to keep her safe until he can at least work out what his next move should be. He’s never been so torn; he’s an honourable man and a fine soldier, but for the first time, he has something – someone – in his life as important to him as his career and he’s going to have to work hard to walk the tightrope between love and duty. It has to be said that Kirsty isn’t always a great help when it comes to that; her stubborn devotion to her father and a seeming lack of a sense of self-preservation threaten to undermine Robert’s attempts to keep her safe, and it’s easy to understand why he gets so angry with her on occasion. He has a wider understanding of the dangers they’re facing; the situation in Scotland is teetering on a knife edge, with supporters of the ‘King Over the Water’ committed to ousting the Hanoverian monarch and returning the Stuarts to the throne, and Robert knows only too well the likely outcome for the ordinary citizens should the divisions throughout Scotland erupt into bloody civil war. He has other good reasons, more personal ones, for being strongly opposed to the Jacobite cause – reasons which, should they become known, could cause his loyalties to be questioned, ruin him professionally and possibly pose a threat to his life.
Rife with intrigue and with the historical background and Scottish locations brought vividly to life, Dance to the Storm is a compelling tale, full of tension and shifting priorities as we watch events unfold through Robert and Kirsty’s eyes. The events of the story take place over little more than a week (as was the case in Gathering Storm) but as Robert and Kirsty fall deeper into love – and recognise what an untenable situation they’re in – the stakes for both of them are much higher than before.
The writing is excellent, and Ms. Craig is incredibly skilful at weaving the historical detail into her fictional tale without ever resorting to dry info-dumps. The protagonists are complex, three-dimensional characters, and the secondary cast is also well-drawn, from those we love to hate (Charlotte) to those we want to snuggle and pamper (Geordie). The standout – as one might expect – is Robert Catto. A career soldier of just twenty-five who has spent his entire adult life soldiering, he’s seen a lot in his young life and hasn’t known much in the way of closeness or affection. He’s handsome, charismatic and quick-witted, but he’s also short-tempered and ruthless; he’s loyal and compassionate and sarcastic as hell, yet his flaws just make him that much more human and easy to relate to. Brave and clever, Kirsty is a skilled apothecary and healer and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, so in that respect she and Robert are made for each other! I did, however, get just a teeny bit irritated with her unswerving devotion to her father, because it causes her to make some extremely unwise decisions that risk her safety. But their romance is really well done; the longing and desire running between them is palpable and I’m eager to find out where they go from here.
Narrator Steve Worsley is new-to-me and I understand that Ms. Craig listened to a lot of performers before settling on him to narrate her story. (A different narrator was used for the previous book and he didn’t really do it justice). A native Scot, Mr Worsley has a smooth, well-modulated voice that is easy on the ear and on the whole, he differentiates effectively between a fairly large cast of principals and secondary characters. There were a few times I felt that his female voices were a little too close in range to the male ones (Kirsty’s speech, in particular, is sometimes difficult to identify without the aid of dialogue tags) but mostly I was sufficiently engaged in the story for that not to have been too much of an issue. Mr. Worsley’s portrayal of Robert Catto is excellent, however; the previous narrator sounded as though Robert was in his forties, so it was a shock when the text indicated he was a few days shy of his twenty-fifth birthday! There’s no problem at all believing he’s in his twenties here. Robert speaks with a cultured English accent (the result of his having moved around so much) with the occasional Scottish inflection, and the narrator does a really good job of bringing out the softer side of his character – a side he really only shows to Kirsty and Geordie – and in his more humorous moments. The pacing is perhaps a little on the slow side, and – and this is a production issue – on numerous occasions there were no breaks between paragraphs, so not only did I not have time to absorb what just happened, I suddenly found myself ‘somewhere else’ with no warning. The same is true of chapter breaks, where a chapter would finish and was then immediately followed by the chapter header for the next.
As I’m reviewing the audio production as a whole, I have to take these things into account when assigning a grade for the narration, which I’ve knocked down by half a grade point.
Dance to the Storm was an entertaining and sometimes gripping listen featuring engaging characters it’s easy to root for, a vividly described setting and a lovely romance full of yearning and UST. Fair warning – the book ends with “To Be Continued…” although it’s not so much a cliffhanger as an indication that the story isn’t over yet, and I’m certainly going to be here for whatever comes next. Strongly recommended for fans of well-written, well-researched romantic historical fiction.
Breakdown of Grade: Narration – B Story – B+
Running time: 11 hours 27 minutes