Joan Dunnett's Tides of Change is an interesting novel, set in the years leading up to the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. The novel's central character, James Lightfoot, is returning to Edinburgh after serving a time as a ship's surgeon. He's ready to continue his studies, to attend medical school in Leiden, and become a physician—but first he has to deliver a coded message from his ship's captain to a long-ago friend, someone James hasn't seen in years. Thus, he becomes involved in the planning of the Jacobite rebellion. James has no interest in politics, but disinterest isn't enough to prevent both sides treating him as a possible threat. Then, there are merchants, both scrupulous and otherwise, and schemers of a non-political sort.
I didn't know much about this historical period and, while I'm still no expert, I was able to follow the novel's plot and to understand the concerns of the different sides involved. The fact that James understands only parts of the situation he finds himself in helps—as readers sharing his naivete will feel no more unsure than he does.
I'd been thinking of this novel as a "mystery" before I began reading, but really it's a historical-political thriller. It covers several years, jumping forward suddenly at time, but Dunnett keeps the narrative clear.
by Sarah-Hope Parmeter
Born in Edinburgh, I grew up immersed in the history of the city, and the tales of Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. After retirement I volunteered as a guide for the National Trust for Scotland at Gladstone's Land and the Georgian House. Tides of Change is my first historical novel.