Sunday, April 30, 2023

A short trip to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in the early 18th century

There’s a strange magic to Holy Island, to Lindisfarne; a strange magic that sustains her.  
(quote from In Darkened Corners)

In 2014, as part of a driving trip from London up to Northumberland and back, my husband and I spent a day on Lindisfarne, an island off England’s northeast coast which is accessible by causeway from the mainland at low tide. We visited the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, the site of an ancient monastery attacked by Vikings in the late 8th century, as well as the 16th-century castle.

It's a place steeped in historic atmosphere. We did a lot of walking and looking out at the sea, and we’ve always wanted to go back. In the photo below, you can see Bamburgh Castle in the distance: another landmark perched at the edge of the water, further down the coastline.

Holy Island, looking at Bamburgh Castle
On Lindisfarne, looking out to Bamburgh Castle in center 
(Photo by Mark Johnson, 2014)

So when I read about Johanna Craven’s new historical fiction series set on Holy Island, as it’s called, I knew I had to read it, and the author recently offered a prequel short story, In Darkened Corners, as a free download. I read it in between longer novels.

Lindisfarne’s proximity to Scotland is important in the story, which takes place just prior to the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. Julia Mitchell (her surname isn’t mentioned until halfway through) runs a curiosity shop on Lindisfarne while raising her young son, Bobby, the product of a brief liaison with a Scotsman. Her father had disowned her after discovering her pregnancy, but Julia has made ends meet with her brothers’ support, by selling unusual vintage items, and by taking in a lodger. But when her three brothers reach a political tipping point – now that there’s a German-born monarch on the English throne – and leave the island to join the Jacobite cause, Julia refuses to get involved. Events quickly make it clear to her, however, that she may not have a choice.

The author packs considerable character development and setting details into this shorter format, evoking the sounds of the sea, the majestic patterns of light and shadow in the sky, and the overwhelming sense of remoteness. The deliberate pacing and secretive atmosphere add to the sense of foreboding. One caveat: when Julia finds herself in uncomfortable circumstances, she doesn’t put up much resistance. The situation resolves too quickly, and I would have liked more explanation.

Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle (photo by Mark Johnson, 2014)

During the story, Julia comes across Highfield House, the abandoned home of the wealthy Blake family, gone now for twenty years. According to the blurb for Firelight Rising, the first full-length book in the series, which comes out in June, the Blakes return to Holy Island and get caught up in new conflicts. I have the book preordered and hope to see Julia again there too, if only as a secondary character.

You can download In Darkened Corners for free via the author’s website (PDF) or via BookFunnel (various other formats). Both books have beautifully designed covers, too.


  1. Thanks so much for the review of this book. You definitely piqued my interest. I have downloaded In Darkened Corners. Looking forward to reading it. I have also preordered Firelight Rising.

    1. That's great - I hope you enjoy them both. This one did get me curious about what happens in the next book.