The Ivy Tree - Mary Stewart
This is the third novel by Mary Stewart I’ve read in the past few months and my least favourite so far. It lacks in a number of departments. Firstly, although the novel is nominally set around Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, the setting could just as easily have been any rural England location with horses. Some early references to the Wall and a theme involving a search for Roman ruins provide the totality of the Northumberland scene setting. While the descriptive writing is excellent, it doesn’t evoke a strong sense of place in the same way as the south of France is evoked in [b:Madam, Will You Talk?|27698|Madam, Will You Talk?|Mary Stewart||1768265] or Corfu is evoked in [b:This Rough Magic|27694|This Rough Magic|Mary Stewart||2758203]. Thirdly, while the action appears to take place around the time the novel was published (that is, in 1961), there is little in the text to place it within that time period, with the notable exceptions of a heroine who smokes like a chimney and some very dubious gender politics. Thirdly, the characters are two-dimensional and I found it difficult to care about any of them, other than a secondary character, Donald, of whom I wish I had seen more. Fourthly, the twist in the tale was, I thought, patently obvious from early on. I kept hoping that I was wrong about this and I expected some other twist, but it never came. For me, the twist was that there wasn’t actually a twist. In a way, Stewart hid everything in plain sight, which is clever writing, but not clever enough to overcome my disappointment with the predictability of the plot.

Although I’ve focused on the negatives, I don’t wish to imply that I disliked reading the novel. It was an easy and entertaining read and deserves its 3 stars. I particularly enjoyed enjoyed reading it with Jemidar and lots of others in the Mary Stewart Group. However, I prefer Josephine Tey’s [b:Brat Farrar|243397|Brat Farrar|Josephine Tey||1003711], which is referred to in the narrative and which clearly gave Stewart plenty of inspiration. The plot in that novel is just as predictable, but the psychological portrait of the central character makes it considerably more interesting.