Book Review | Sight Unseen by Sandra Ireland

1648. Alie Gowdie marries Richard Webster during a turbulent time in Scotland’s history. Charles I is about to lose his head, and little does Alie know that she too will meet a grisly end within the year.

2019. Sarah Sutherland is struggling to cope with the demands of her day job, caring for her elderly father and keeping tabs on her backpacking daughter. She wanted to be an archaeologist, but now in her forties, she is divorced, alone, and there seems to be no respite, no glimmer of excitement on the horizon. However, she does have a special affinity with the Kilgour Witch, Alie Gowdie, who lived in Sarah’s cottage until her execution in 1648, and Sarah likes nothing better than to retreat into a world of sorcery, spells and religious fanaticism.

Her stories delight tourists as she leads them along the cobbled streets of her home town, but what really lies behind the tale of Alie Gowdie, the Kilgour Witch? Can Sarah uncover the truth in order to right a centuries-old wrong? And what else might modern-day Kilgour be hiding, just out of sight?


I started drafting this review while I was on the last wee bit of Sight Unseen. I just finished reading it, at midnight, and I’ve deleted everything I’d written so far and started again.

Let’s begin with the basics. Sandra (one of my uni creative writing cohorts, by the way, let me just name drop a little) calls herself a “purveyor of Fine Tartan Gothic”, which is a pretty accurate description of her books. Sight Unseen is set in the fictional town of Kilgour, which has a past steeped in witchcraft and mysticism.

Sandra is incredible at writing settings that are essentially characters in their own right – they’re evocative and you can feel their presence in every scene, likebackground music. You can tell she absolutely immerses herself in her settings when she writes and it shines through. After a few chapters of Sight Unseen I felt like I’ve grown up in Kilgour, with all its charm and uncomfortable history.

I’ll tell you something else about Sandra: she’s an absolute master of the curveball, of weaving multiple seemingly unrelated threads through a story and suddenly yanking them all together behind you. The twists aren’t outlandish, but you never see them coming until they’re upon you and everything falls into place. She’s got phenomenal talent and Sight Unseen is an absolute joy to read from beginning to end – it’ll chill you and shock you and make you smile.

Sight Unseen ends on a “to be continued”, and I can’t wait for the next one. I have a feeling I know what it’s going to focus on, although knowing Sandra I’m probably miles wrong…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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