Ah, Scotland. The land of whiskey. Place of tartan. Home to clan history and lots of sheep. And most important, a country with a deep history of literature. After all, some of the world’s most famous authors and novels were birthed or took place in Scotland: Robert Louis Stevenson and his novel THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (among others), Walter Scott, J. M. Barrie, OUTLANDER, Alexander McCall Smith, Harry Potter…and legions of others. And what’s more, the country is beautiful, so it’s no wonder that people love books set in Scotland. Here are some of our favorites.
We can’t start this list without mentioning the incredibly popular book that started a modern Scottish fascination movement: OUTLANDER. In case you don’t know, we’ll describe it: a former war nurse in the late 1940s travels back in time, through some stones in the Scottish Highlands, to the eighteenth century, and falls in love with a Jacobite warrior. Romance, war, history, an amazing female protagonist, set against the atmospheric backdrop of Scotland. What more could we ask for? Read the full review of OUTLANDER.
The relationship that blossoms from friendship to love between Claire and Jamie is, well, pretty swoon-worthy. Claire is confident with a lot of spunk and Jamie is hotheaded with a lot of heart. The combination of these two could be a recipe for disaster, but they—usually—are in harmony.
Read Kara O’Rourke’s review here.
Read Kara O’Rourke’s review here.
We travel back in Scottish history a little bit further with Signe Pike’s historical fiction novel, THE LOST QUEEN, which takes place in what we might now consider The Dark Ages. It follows Languoreth, an actual (but often forgotten) figure in history: a queen of an ancient kingdom in Scotland, and the twin sister of the man who inspired the legend of Merlin. She is married off to the king of Strathclyde, whose family supports Christianity, but her brother goes to help the hero Emrys Pendragon, who is fighting for the Old Ways. She falls in love with someone she’s not supposed to, and war threatens to tear apart the world as she knows it. It’s the first installment in a trilogy as well, so there’s plenty more to come in this epic and romantic historical saga.
Scottish history is so fascinating, and Susan Fletcher’s novel makes it even more compelling in this engrossing novel. It’s 1692 in the Scottish Highlands, and Corrag—our courageous female protagonist—is imprisoned after she’s accused of witchcraft and murder. She begins to recount her life to a man who is gathering information in hopes of condemning King William—a protestant who may have contributed to a massacre in the Highlands. It’s an extremely beautiful tale of passion, bravery, and Highland history.
What’s better than Scotland, love, and history? Scotland, love, history, and a mystery all rolled into one! And that’s what Sarah Maine does in WOMEN OF THE DUNES: she writes an intriguing story about two generations of Scottish women, obsession, and tragedy. In Ulla, a town on the northwest coast, the history of an eighth-century Norsewoman is told down to Libby Snow by her grandmother—who learned it from a maid at Sturrock House. Generations later, Libby discovers bones on the Sturrock land, and tries to unravel the dark history of the area from the myths and family histories she was once told.
Fairy tales! Ancient secrets! Scottish scenery! WILD WOOD has it all. Young Jesse Marley is run down by a motorbike and placed in the hospital. She’s unable to speak and unable to write with her dominant hand. But her weaker hand suddenly seems to have a mind of its own, and she starts to draw castles and warriors she’s never seen before. Her neurologist is intrigued—and so begins an epic journey to discover an old Norse warlord’s stronghold. She might not know it, but she has the key to the legend behind it.
Carrie McClelland is an author planning to write her next novel about a Jacobite rebellion in 1708, with a main character based on one of her own ancestors. However, Carrie begins to realize she might be experiencing ancestral memory, and opening up long-lost wounds of love and betrayal. This book is so full of romance and heartfelt moments, you won’t want to put it down.
Contemporary and eighteenth-century Scotland are interwoven in this gothic and romantic novel. A writer is startled to learn that a story she thinks has sprung from her imagination is actually a factual account of her ancestors during the Jacobite rebellion. Complex Scottish history with a hint of time travel and gorgeous simmering romance? Check!
While we’re talking about the Jacobites, we should note this exquisitely researched, lusciously written, and somewhat scandalous novel about the woman who shaped Scotland’s history, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s love, Flora MacDonald. Traveling from Scotland to America, and featuring a secret child of hers and Charlie’s, the fictionalized life story puts her right back in the center of Scotland’s history, giving her the honor she deserves.
Set against in a creepy old water mill in Scotland, BONE DEEP explores secrets, local legends, sibling rivalry, and family fallouts. Mac is a retired professor, researching local legends. Her son, Arthur, encourages her to hire Lucie to transcribe these stories—but Mac is desperate to keep family secrets buried, and Lucie has a few of her own as well. While the outcome could be deadly, the mill plays its own role in the story, as a threatening, ever-creepy presence that haunts Mac.
Alexander McCall Smith is a famed contemporary author, most widely known for his series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. His novel, 44 SCOTLAND STREET, however, is an excellent example of atmospheric writing. He depicts Edinburgh in such a way that it feels tangible, and his characters are extremely witty and pleasant. Pat is a 22-year-old who recently moved into an apartment with the attractive Bruce. Also living in the building is the widow Domenica, overbearing mother Irene, and her five-year-old son (who she’s forcing to learn saxophone). A cast of eccentric characters, a mystery to be solved, and a great Scottish city will keep you glued to the page.
Ian Rankin is another famous Scottish author, and deserves significant mention on this list. One of his most famous novels is KNOTS AND CROSSES—the first in his Inspector Rebus series. Also set in Edinburgh, it follows a journalist and former SAS member on a mission to uncover the truth behind the abduction and murder of a few young girls. Detective murder mysteries in an old city? We’re in!
We’d be remiss if we skipped out on a few classics—and Muriel Spark’s novel is one we have to highlight. In 1930s Edinburgh, Miss Jean Brodie is an unorthodox teacher full of life. She singles out six students as the most elite that she teaches, and the story follows these girls as they grow. Miss Jean Brodie prides herself on her teaching topics, among which are her love life, but that also include fascism. And although she places a lot of trust in her six pupils, one eventually betrays her.
Miss Brodie, one of the most wonderful female characters, is an out-spoken and rashly passionate teacher chafing at the restraint of 1930 Edinburgh social norms. In love with two men, and deeply devoted to her students, who she calls the "creme de la creme". The story of how she comes up against the wall of social disapproval and betrayal is heartbreaking and beautiful.
This is widely considered one of Virginia Woolf’s greatest novels, and it’s clear why: she is a master storyteller. In TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, set in the remote and starkly beautiful Isle of Skye, and told through the eyes of locals and guests, she’s able to build an emotional world that explores the differences and relationships between men and women, family members, and community. Read the full review of TO THE LIGHTHOUSE.