Sisters of Castle Leod: A Novel

Fiction - Historical - Personage
313 Pages
Reviewed on 10/02/2022
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, "a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller" (Readers' Favorite, 5 stars), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a "resonant novel ... about the birth and demise of ragtime ... luxuriously crafted" (Publishers Weekly). Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and National Indie Excellence Award. Her latest novel, SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, is an Edwardian-era story of superstition, scandal, faith, and family, inspired by the real lives of the remarkable Mackenzie sisters of Castle Leod. Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Shrabastee Chakraborty for Readers' Favorite

Sibell Mackenzie had always been quiet and perceptive of the Unseen World, the world beyond logic where the spirits roam. However, her headstrong and boisterous younger sister Constance only cared for worldly affairs. Though she was known to be their father's favorite, Constance was not his choice as heir to the Peerage of Cromartie. Instead, after the Earl’s untimely death, the title passes to Sibell, creating a schism between the two siblings. Burdened by this responsibility at a young age, Sibell tries her best. However, a heartrending tragedy strikes and threatens to haunt her at every turn. Constance’s questionable life choices only increase the distance between them. Sisters of Castle Leod, a historical work by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard narrates the story of these two sisters.

Set in the misty mountains and untraversed wilderness of the Scottish Highlands, the novel has an atmospheric feel that captivated me. The ancient castle, with its legends of ghostly hauntings, created an aura of mysticism. Tales of the occult, hypnotism, and reincarnation gave the story a unique flavor. Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard based her novel on two actual historical figures, sisters Sibell and Constance Mackenzie. Her reimagination made the duo into formidable heroines with distinctive strengths and vulnerabilities. One struggled to reconcile the spiritual realm with reality while the other strove to dance to her own rhythm. A conflict that took root unknowingly festered through the years, rife with rivalry, jealousy, and mistrust. Yet, an undercurrent of everlasting love kept drawing the sisters closer. I would heartily recommend Sisters of Castle Leod, a bittersweet saga of sisterhood, to anyone appreciating historical fiction.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

In the novel Sisters of Castle Leod, by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, Sibell Mackenzie's father advises her: “Life is inherently unpredictable, Sibell. That’s why you should plan for everything, count on nothing.” All she wanted was to make her father proud, but Sibell wasn’t his favorite child. Her younger sister Constance had that honor. Sibell was the oldest and with no male heir, her father named her as his successor. Upon his death, she would become 3rd Countess of Cromartie. Castle Leod in the Scottish Highlands and all the other Cromartie lands would be hers to manage and control. It was an overwhelming task, but one that she took very seriously, even before she came of age and could legally rule on her own. Sibell had a secret, though. She was a spiritualist who believed in and saw ghosts. It all began with a childhood fascination with Castle Leod’s legendary night watchman, a silent ghost. She saw him one fateful night and on other occasions, as well as others from beyond. Her story wasn’t one of pomp and circumstance garnered from wealth. She loved her sister, but the two were set on different paths that collided frequently. In the end, all she wanted was to be reunited with her sister, her best friend.

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard’s historical novel, Sisters of Castle Leod, is an engaging look into the startling life of a Scottish noblewoman of the late nineteenth century. It was an era when fortunes were made and lost, a time when people studied the mysteries of life, often fantasizing about lives that continued beyond death. The author has woven a compelling story based on this fascinating historical character. Well-versed in the political and social norms of the era, the story follows Sibell as she matures and finds her way in a world that still challenged a woman’s right to control her life and her lands. The story is told in the first-person narrative from Sibell’s point of view and the reader is instantly caught up in the magic of what lies beyond with the opening scene where Sibell, as a child, experiences her first ghostly vision. Whilst the historical element of this novel can easily be compared to some of the great historical novelists, like Sharon Kay Penman and many others, the fantasy element, the ghostly apparitions, and contact with the spirit world add an original view of a woman who was, in so many ways, ahead of her time. Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie, spiritualist, and romantic novelist, truly comes alive in this classic.

Rabia Tanveer

Sisters of Castle Leod: A Novel by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard tells the tale of two sisters separated by secrets and expectations. Sibell and Constance were sisters, but they were as different as two people could be. While Constance was 6 feet tall, an expert horsewoman, hunter, and swimming champion, Sibell was soft, loved books, and saw ghosts and spirits. Although things were never easy between the sisters, they loved each other. However, things changed when their father died and left Castle Leod to Sibell. That started a series of events that led to Constance and Sibell fighting, and Constance being banished from entering her childhood home. Will the sister ever make up? What happened that led Sibell to ban her sister from their childhood home? Can the bond between the sisters ever mend?

I love intricate stories where the protagonists don’t have a romantic bond. Sibell and Constance were sisters, and even distance could not change that. I was invested in their stories, and I wanted to see what happened next. While at first I was more interested in Sibell and her spirituality, Constance soon took over and made me pay her attention too. Both of them had a story to tell, and author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard made sure that readers heard both sisters. Constance took readers on an adventurous journey in which she discovered herself and fell in love with music and dance. Sibell, on the other hand, discovered more facets of her spirituality and chased after ghosts that were best left dead and buried. The narrative style was fantastic and rich. The pace was fast, but it was not overwhelming. The author did a fantastic job of researching Sibell and Constance. I can imagine the choices she may have had to make and how hard it would have been to tell the tale of two sisters without sounding biased. Loved it and recommended it to my historical fiction fan friends.

Megan Chance

Heartbreaking and redemptive, inspired by a true story of two very different, equally passionate sisters who were both destined to forge new paths for women in a tumultuous time. Bernard's tale is richly imagined and thoroughly engrossing, and will have readers quickly turning the pages.--Megan Chance, bestselling author of A SPLENDID RUIN

Rebecca Rosenberg

A magical, mystical, mesmerizing tale of two real-life noble sisters of Castle Leod, caught up in shocking passions that cast them in opposition, yet desperate for reconciliation. —Rebecca Rosenberg, triple-gold seed-winning novelist, CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS

Gail Olmsted

A carefully researched historical novel with a touch of the supernatural. I highly recommend." —Gail Ward Olmsted, author of LANDSCAPE OF A MARRIAGE: Central Park Was Only the Beginning