We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2014.

‘One of the best historical novels of recent years, Greig dusts off the past and presents it with tremendous skill’ – Literary Review
‘A Triumph of suspense’ – Guardian

Saltire Award-winning author Andrew Greig reimagines the Border Ballad Fair Helen of Kirkconnel Lea as a dark romance and stirring adventure. Often called the Scottish Romeo & Juliet, here it is re-presented as the source of an equally famed, more complex drama.

The Scottish Borderlands, 1590s
Harry Langton is called back to the country of his childhood to aide an old friend, Adam Fleming, who believes his life is in danger. He’s fallen for Helen of Annandale and, in turn, fallen foul of her rival, Robert Bell: a man as violent as he is influential. In a land where minor lairds vie for power and blood feuds are settled by the sword, Fleming faces a battle to win Helen’s hand. Entrusted as guard to the lovers’ secret trysts, Langton is thrust into the middle of a dangerous triangle; and discovers Helen is not so chaste as she is fair. But Langton has his own secrets to keep – and other friends to serve. Someone has noticed his connections, and recruited him in their bid to control the hierarchy of the Border families; someone who would use lovers as pawns in a game of war.

Reviews

'A triumph of suspense ... what sets Fair Helen above the usual run of historical novels, aside from Greig's extraordinarily deft use of language, is its moral depth, its acute sense of the intricacies of the Border feuds'
Guardian
'One of the best historical novels of recent years, Greig dusts off the past and presents it with tremendous skill'
Literary Review
'Exciting and moving, intelligent and imaginative ... Demands to be read once at the gallop, and then a second time slowly, savouring the details and relishing its intelligence'
Scotsman
For what sets Fair Helen above the usual run of historical novels, aside from Grieg's extraordinarily deft use of language, is its moral depth, its acute sense of intricacies of the Border feuds and of the Byzantine intrigues of James' inner circle and, most poignantly, the helplessness and determination of those characters.
The Guardian
This is a rollicking tale in the Scots Baronial style, bristling with antlers and claymores, and wonderfully entertaining.
The Times
Told in a supple prose that makes effective use of the Scots language of the period, Greig's novel...combines an intelligent adventure story with a melancholic reflection on a memory and the passage of time.
Culture
Andrew Greig, himself a fine poet, had taken one of the most exquisite and moving of these ballads, and made something that is both new and true to its sprits. Fair Helen is a novel that demands to be read once at the gallop, and then a second time slowly, savouring the details and relishing its intelligence. One can't praise it more highly
The Scotsman
Greig is a poet as well as a novelist and takes clear joy in creating a language for the book which abounds in Scots words and gorgeous description... vivid metaphors are to be found on almost every page.
Scotland on Sunday
Andrew Greig is one of Scotland's most breath-taking poets. His strength lies in capturing the rugged, wild landscape and the psyche of the people who inhabit it.
Literary Review
A beautifully written elegy to love and loss, it will draw you in from the first page. And it's final revelation is heartbreaking. Quite simply, a wonderful read.
History Today
Greig uses the Scottish ballad Helen of Kirkconnel of 1590 to create an enchanting tale bursting with the timeless themes of romance, violence, jealousy and adventure
The Lady