100 books like Orkney

By Amy Sackville,

Here are 100 books that Orkney fans have personally recommended if you like Orkney. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Things in Jars

Bridget Walsh Author Of The Tumbling Girl

From my list on crime set in the nineteenth century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a lover of all things Victorian and an obsessive researcher. Academic libraries are my favourite places in the world and I like nothing more than uncovering some weird nugget of information that forces me to reappraise what I thought I knew. With a PhD in Victorian domestic murder and a fascination with the weirder elements of Victorian life, it was almost inevitable I’d turn my hand to writing crime fiction set in that era. The five books I’ve recommended are some of the best crime novels set in the nineteenth century, but written more recently.

Bridget's book list on crime set in the nineteenth century

Bridget Walsh Why did Bridget love this book?

Things in Jars is positioned at the meeting point of three Victorian obsessions: anatomy, entertainment, and spectacle.

It features Bridie Devine, a female detective tasked with finding a kidnapped child. But the child is not like other children. And Bridie, ‘the finest female detective of her age’ is not like other detectives. Not only is this an outstanding detective novel, at its heart lies a beautifully observed, genuinely moving, if somewhat unconventional love story.

By Jess Kidd,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Things in Jars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

London, 1863. Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, is taking on her toughest case yet. Reeling from her last job and with her reputation in tatters, a remarkable puzzle has come her way. Christabel Berwick has been kidnapped. But Christabel is no ordinary child. She is not supposed to exist.

As Bridie fights to recover the stolen child she enters a world of fanatical anatomists, crooked surgeons and mercenary showmen. Anomalies are in fashion, curiosities are the thing, and fortunes are won and lost in the name of entertainment. The public love a spectacle and Christabel may…


Book cover of The Sealwoman's Gift

Melanie Golding Author Of The Hidden

From my list on folklore of the sea.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love the idea that much of folklore is based on universal human stories that are still true today. Selkies may be mystical creatures but they are also women treated badly by men, then judged for their response by wider society. Because of this universality, as well as the compelling magical element, there are many modern novels that make use of selkie folklore, which in several ways shares roots with the folklore of mermaids. I’ve picked out a few that spoke to me. I hope many more readers will discover these sea-faring, shape-shifting, magic-realist tales.

Melanie's book list on folklore of the sea

Melanie Golding Why did Melanie love this book?

I love this book for many reasons. The Sealwoman is a passenger on the slave ship that takes our protagonist form her beloved homeland, and the ‘gift’ of the title is the story she tells of her shapeshifting roots. The voyage is hellish, and contains a terrifying birth scene among other unspeakable, unimaginable, only just survivable events. It’s based on a true story, which makes it all the more powerful, and it makes me wonder about the hidden truths in the folklore contained within it, especially the sealwoman’s story. 

By Sally Magnusson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Sealwoman's Gift as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A remarkable feat of imagination... I enjoyed and admired it in equal measure' Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent
'An extraordinarily immersive read, that emphasises the power of stories, examining themes of motherhood, identity, exile and freedom ... a journey that not only crosses continents, but encompasses tragedy and rich sensuality' Guardian
'A powerful tale of Barbary pirates ... richly imagined.' Sunday Times
'Engrossing' Sunday Express 'Fascinating ... a really, really good read' BBC R2 Book Club
'The best sort of historical novel.' Scotsman 'A lyrical tale' Stylist
'A poetic retelling of Icelandic history.' Daily Mail 'Compelling stuff' Good…


Book cover of The Mermaid of Black Conch

Therese Down Author Of The Estate Agent

From my list on lighting up your imagination and your soul.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love stories grounded in realism - but which also explore that there may be more to life than meets the eye; reasons beyond reason, for the way we dream, love, and think, and which come from unexpected sources. I love books whose characters really 'live', and stay with me, long after I've finished reading. I aspire to create such characters. In my novels, I seek to explore important themes from perspectives that often pitch rationality against what it cannot explain, or dismiss. The fiction I most love does this – whether it exploits mythology, suggests life beyond life, or uses magical realism to add ‘other’ dimensions to the ordinary. "There are more things… Horatio…"

Therese's book list on lighting up your imagination and your soul

Therese Down Why did Therese love this book?

The Mermaid of Black Conch takes a mythological creature and gives her extraordinary life, as a very real, young woman, called Aycayia.

She is caught – hooked like a prize fish - by greedy anglers, and hauled from the sea, bringing with her an already fascinating and tragic history of injustice and misunderstanding. But, she is also an object of love.

Not all fishermen are commercial opportunists… Not all men are eager to exploit beautiful and unusual women, and so begins an extraordinary rescue, and a life-affirming relationship, with many unpredictable, literally magical, and truly remarkable twists.

This enchanting book, written with breath-taking originality, is likely to spell-bind you – permanently. You’ll never again think of mermaids in the same way.

By Monique Roffey,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Mermaid of Black Conch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Escape to the ocean with the entrancing, unforgettable winner of the Costa Book of the Year - as read on BBC Radio 4.

'Mesmerising' MAGGIE O'FARRELL
'A unique talent' BERNARDINE EVARISTO
'Wonderful' BRIDGET COLLINS
'Brilliant' CLARE CHAMBERS

Near the island of Black Conch, a fisherman sings to himself while waiting for a catch. But David attracts a sea-dweller that he never expected - Aycayia, an innocent young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid.

When American tourists capture Aycayia, David rescues her and vows to win her trust. Slowly, painfully, she transforms into a woman again. Yet…


Book cover of Deep Water

Melanie Golding Author Of The Hidden

From my list on folklore of the sea.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love the idea that much of folklore is based on universal human stories that are still true today. Selkies may be mystical creatures but they are also women treated badly by men, then judged for their response by wider society. Because of this universality, as well as the compelling magical element, there are many modern novels that make use of selkie folklore, which in several ways shares roots with the folklore of mermaids. I’ve picked out a few that spoke to me. I hope many more readers will discover these sea-faring, shape-shifting, magic-realist tales.

Melanie's book list on folklore of the sea

Melanie Golding Why did Melanie love this book?

In this prize-winning novel for older teenagers, Hersey recreates a story of Selkie lore which, in terms of the magical element, remains largely faithful to the original folklore. Teenager Danni’s mother has disappeared, so her daughter sets out to find her. Danni finds herself in her mother’s small Cornish hometown, and soon discovers secrets about her family that are so surprising and hard to believe, they threaten to blow her world apart. What follows is an adventure that enthralls deeply, incorporating fantasy elements into a satisfyingly emotional, realistic story. Stylistically, the sea, selkies, the coastline, and the landscape play important parts, providing an atmospheric backdrop to this fast-moving thrill ride. 

By Lu Hersey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deep Water as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When her mum vanishes, Danni moves to a tiny Cornish fishing village with Dad - where the locals treat her like a monster. As the village's dark, disturbing past bubbles to the surface, Danni discovers that she's not who - or what - she thought she was. And the only way to save her family from a bitter curse is to embrace her incredible new gift.


Book cover of The Mermaid Bride and Other Orkney Folk Tales

Janis Mackay Author Of The Wee Seal

From my list on evoking the sea and shore.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have lived by the sea in the far north of Scotland, where I wrote The Wee Seal, and several other sea and seal themed books. I now live in Edinburgh by the sea and swim daily. I am also a storyteller with a keen interest in myth, and how myth impacts our lives. The recommendations I have given a nod to myth and their place in our life, and the sea, and how, at least in Britain, it is rarely that far away. A little wild, in a world that can feel, sometimes, too tame.

Janis' book list on evoking the sea and shore

Janis Mackay Why did Janis love this book?

I love this book because it takes me to the far north (where I used to live).

It takes me back to the wide skies, jagged cliffs, pounding waves, miles of rough open land, and seals gazing at you from every bay and cove. I love reading old traditional tales because, as a writer, they feed me, and give me ideas for new stories.

Book cover of Orkney Folk Tales

M.A. Grant Author Of The Iron Crown

From my list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I stepped off the ferry onto Mainland Orkney, a piece of myself I never knew was missing suddenly slotted into place. Orkney became my geographic soulmate and I knew that The Darkest Court trilogy’s final book—and final battle—would have to take place there. Whenever I find myself longing to return, I pick up one of these books and throw myself back into the stories and histories that caught hold of my imagination all those years ago. I hope they stir your sense of magic and wonder the same way.

M.A.'s book list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney

M.A. Grant Why did M.A. love this book?

The best way to learn a new place is to read its folk tales. Muir’s curated collection not only gives a sense of the community values found throughout the wide spread of Orkney islands, but also of magic and wonder that pervades the place. You can easily take a tour to the specific locations mentioned in the stories, and I can assure you that rereading the stories in those places, with Muir’s charming, poetic prose, makes them come to life in fascinating new ways.

By Tom Muir,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Orkney Folk Tales as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Orkney Islands are a place of mystery and magic, where the past and the present meet, ancient standing stones walk and burial mounds are the home of the trows. Orkney Folk Tales walks the reader across invisible islands that are home to fin folk and mermaids, and seals that are often far more than they appear to be. Here Orkney witches raise storms and predict the outcome of battles, ghosts seek revenge and the Devil sits in the rafters of St Magnus Cathedral, taking notes! Using ancient tales told by the firesides of the Picts and Vikings, storyteller Tom…


Book cover of The Ring Breaker

J.G. Harlond Author Of The Doomsong Sword

From my list on factual fantasy for coming-of-age Viking stories.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up on a Viking battlefield, in an English coastal village once raided then occupied by Norsemen. We had ancestors who lived on the Isle of Orkney, and in the Celtic south-west. From a young age, I read Norse and Celtic myths and legends, and went on to study history and philosophy – and then became an author. Now, I have family in Sweden and grandchildren of Ash and Elm. My list offers pure escapism, but also shows how our ancestors lived in an age with no electricity or compulsory schooling. It’s the wonderful combination of the ‘other world’ myths and history that I believe makes us who we are. 

J.G.'s book list on factual fantasy for coming-of-age Viking stories

J.G. Harlond Why did J.G. love this book?

This beautifully written novel showed me what life must have been like on the island of Orkney in the Dark Ages and trapped me in a gripping, almost ‘other-world’ coming-of-age tale.

Full of fascinating descriptive details and wise human insight, the story tells of the developing, sometimes tender, sometimes aggressive, relationship between two homeless adolescents in a very dangerous adult environment.

By Jean Gill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ring Breaker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Maeshowe and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney

M.A. Grant Author Of The Iron Crown

From my list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I stepped off the ferry onto Mainland Orkney, a piece of myself I never knew was missing suddenly slotted into place. Orkney became my geographic soulmate and I knew that The Darkest Court trilogy’s final book—and final battle—would have to take place there. Whenever I find myself longing to return, I pick up one of these books and throw myself back into the stories and histories that caught hold of my imagination all those years ago. I hope they stir your sense of magic and wonder the same way.

M.A.'s book list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney

M.A. Grant Why did M.A. love this book?

Orkney is home to more historical sites and monuments than I can name, but for those of us who celebrate the Winter Solstice, Maeshowe is a critical pilgrimage site. This official souvenir guide to Maeshowe and other Neolithic sites is a perfect companion to the stories and historical facts woven by tour guides. It also doesn’t hurt that you can pull it out, stare at the beautiful photographs, and imagine yourself back in Orkney every time you long to return.

Book cover of Scotland's Hidden Sacred Past

L.S. Berthelsen Author Of The Haling and the Scottish Templars

From my list on navigating ancient wisdom traditions and the cosmos.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Templar history enthusiast with a penchant for spiritual surprises hiding in plain sight. I believe words are vessels of spirit and that writing opens a channel of communication for manifesting thoughts into reality. Traveling throughout Europe, Scotland, and England has deepened my confidence that there was so much more to the Middle Ages than crusades and feudalism. The Templars facilitated many societal transformations, including a flowering of mysticism under their guardianship. The mystery is… why have we not connected these dots before? And I suspect there’s much more to discover! My books gather research threads from seemingly isolated historic characters, places, and events into cohesive, inspired, and vibrant stories.

L.S.'s book list on navigating ancient wisdom traditions and the cosmos

L.S. Berthelsen Why did L.S. love this book?

Of all Silva’s books, I am most excited about this one, because of his groundbreaking discoveries. I admire his relentless tenacity for research, while sniffing out enigmatic information. My love of Scottish history often leaves me feeling lost regarding its ancient history. But I also am super careful to take many extrapolations on ancient history with a grain of salt. Silva’s writings are refreshing and his sense of humor is delightful. So, if you want to learn more about your Scottish roots from before Christianity arrived, then take a stroll through ancient circles aligned with the constellation Orion. Home may not be where you think it is!

By Freddy Silva,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Scotland's Hidden Sacred Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Around 6000 BC a revolution took place on Orkney and the Western Isles of Scotland. An outstanding collection of stone circles, standing stones, round towers and passage mounds appeared seemingly out of nowhere. And yet many such monuments were not indigenous to Britain, but to regions of the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean.
Their creators were equally mysterious. Traditions tell of the Papae and Peti, 'strangers from afar' who were physically different, dressed in white tunics and lived aside from the regular population. They were regarded as master astronomers with an uncanny ability to work with enormous stones. But where…


Book cover of The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown

M.A. Grant Author Of The Iron Crown

From my list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I stepped off the ferry onto Mainland Orkney, a piece of myself I never knew was missing suddenly slotted into place. Orkney became my geographic soulmate and I knew that The Darkest Court trilogy’s final book—and final battle—would have to take place there. Whenever I find myself longing to return, I pick up one of these books and throw myself back into the stories and histories that caught hold of my imagination all those years ago. I hope they stir your sense of magic and wonder the same way.

M.A.'s book list on making you fall madly in love with Orkney

M.A. Grant Why did M.A. love this book?

Brown is a seminal figure in Orcadian literature, and the moment you read any one of his poems, it’s clear why. This is an enjoyable introduction to his works and features some of the poems you can’t find in print in other sources. His poems balance the beauty and complicated reality of his home, but his love for the place shines through every carefully chosen word. Even if you don’t know if you like poetry, the rhythms of his works make them accessible to everyone, proving him to truly be Orkney’s skald. 

By Brian Murray, Archie Bevan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George Mackay Brown is recognised as one of Scotland's greatest twentieth-century lyric poets. His work is integral to the flowering of Scottish literature over the last fifty years. Admired by many fellow poets, including Seamus Heaney and Douglas Dunn, his poems are deeply individual and unmistakable in their setting: 'the small green world' of the Orkney Islands where he lived for most of his life with its elemental forces of sea and sky and Norse and Icelandic ancestry, is brought vividly and memorably to life.

Here, his rich resonant poetry is collected in one volume, making available again many poems…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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