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Year of the Sheep: A Novel of the Highland Clearances
Scotland 1805 The landlord has decreed that the people of the straths and glens must leave their homes to make way for the coming of the blackface sheep and their herders. The people of the glens, who have lived peacefully there for almost a thousand years, do not want to go. That was the central conflict of the Highland Clearances, a sad period in Scottish history. James Y. Bartlett’s sweeping historical novel about the Clearances in Sutherland in Scotland’s Far North, focuses in on one important—and historically accurate—fact: Both the landlord and the people being told to leave were women. Elizabeth Gordon was the 19th chief of Clan Sutherland, and was married to the wealthiest man in all of Great Britain. The clansmen she told to leave their homes in Glencullen were mostly women, as all the men in the village had been sent off to Europe to fight against Bonaparte. But those women, inspired by the village shaman and healer, a white witch called Mute Meg; organized by the schoolteacher Anna Kenton; and led by the almost shape-shifting outlaw known as Billy Hanks, decided to make their stand. Year of the Sheep tells the story of this painful conflict, from the beginning at the Battle of Culloden Moor, through the chaotic events of the French Revolution and into the peaceful glens of Scotland, where the fires unleashed by the changing times threaten to end a way of life that endured over many centuries. In the hands of noted storyteller and novelist James Y. Bartlett (author of the popular Hacker Golf Mystery series), this story of the Highland Clearances comes alive. There are no happy endings in any tale of the Clearances, but Year of the Sheep will entertain, inspire and evoke memories of a way of life that has gone forever.

Quarter Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10

Assessment:

Plot: Without one main character, The Year of the Sheep masterfully presents a stream of consciousness that creates an out-of-body experience, where the reader seamlessly drifts from one interior to the next. Sodden with detail, it is a work that can be marveled for its geographical, economic, and political structure.

Prose/Style: Bartlett manipulates the English language, so every word possesses feeling. With prose that are plain-spoken yet polished, he writes with a modesty that is skillful yet entirely approachable. The formal language is somber and nostalgic, which feels appropriate for the Scottish setting. Bartlett merges the physical with the emotional to create a warm, rich, and quaint landscape.

Originality: Bartlett reveals his 30 years of research with his thorough retracing of the Highland Clearances. His background in journalism seeps into his storytelling, as it is structured, concise, and never muddled. Despite the sobering events, the author manages to include a subtlety in his humor—a technique that captures an unmistakable British wit.

Character Development/Execution: The author maintains precise control over every conscience. In a narrative with over 40 recurring characters, he manages to create three-dimensional personalities that each approach a conflict and a denouement. The book demands its readers’ attention, but the end result is like a completed puzzle. When the townspeople sit around the fire sharing old Celtic myths, there is a satisfaction that comes with knowing each person’s voice and their personal story.

Blurb: A fusion of the gothic novel and Virginia Woolf, this book delights in storytelling. Something mystical looms in Bartlett’s writing, making it a tale just as enchanting as its folklore. 

Date Submitted: April 02, 2021

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