30 Books Set in Scotland | Scottish Literature
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Scotland boasts a rich literary and story telling tradition. With authors like J.K. Rowling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Sparks, and Sir Walter Scott, there’s no shortage of Scottish literature and novels.
Transport yourself to the bonny hills of Scotland with these 30 books set in Scotland. Scottish novels, crime thrillers, historical fiction, fairy tale retellings and more!
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1. The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan
Set in modern times, The Gloaming brings Scottish folk tales into a real-life setting. On one of the Scottish Isles, Mara lives with her mother (Signe), father (Peter), older sister (Islay) and younger brother, and most treasured of the three, Bee. Surrounded by the sea, the people of the island have a very special relationship with the natural forces that govern their daily existences. Magic touches the island in different ways whether its rumors of selkies or the being turned to stone when it’s time to die.
Mara, Islay and Bee live in harmony with the island until one tragic summer that will change their lives forever. Mara must then learn to live with the outcomes of that fateful summer and slowly bring balance back to the island.
Kristy Logan has a special talent for transforming classic Scottish folk tales into beautiful (and haunting) modern fairy tales. I would also highly recommend her first novel – The Gracekeepers. Even though it’s not set in Scotland, it’s based on classic Scottish folk tales as well.
2. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon
Heralded as the best Scottish book of all time, Sunset Song follows the novel’s heroine Chris Guthrie as she grows up in rural Scotland in the early 1900s. Armed with her books and love of learning, Chris finds strength in herself amongst the rough and harsh conditions of rural farm life. Set during a period of immense change, Chris watches her community struggle to adapt to modernity and tries to hold it all together during the devastation of World War I.
Sunset Song tells a story of an immensely strong and brave heroine and celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit. It also explores the declining of certain ways of life in Scotland and brilliantly shows one of the most transformational periods of history, not just for Scotland, but for the world.
3. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
With his parents recently dead, David Balfour travels to visit his uncle in order to receive the inheritance that his father left for him setting in motion a plot that sounds almost like a chapter out of Game of Thrones (then again, Scottish clan politics are like a real-life Game of Thrones).
Instead of being welcomed, his uncle enlists the captain of the ship called the Covenant to kidnap him and sell him into slavery in the Carolinas. David escapes and makes his way back to Scotland, all along escaping death and coming into contact with an interesting collection of people. Set just after the events of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, Kidnapped explores the complex political outcomes of that infamous and doomed Scottish push for independence.
Written by the same author who wrote Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Scottish historical fiction book promises adventure with a hint of education on a crucial historical and political period for Scotland.
4. Waverly by Sir Walter Scott
You couldn’t have a list of Scottish novels without including one of the country’s most celebrated authors – Sir Walter Scott. Celebrated so much that there’s a giant monument to him right in the middle of the central Princes Street.
While there’s a whole host of Scottish historical novels to choose from written by Scott, Waverly is special because it’s considered to be the first historical fiction novel of any country in the world. Published in 1814, the novel takes place right before the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 and follows and English gentlemen by the name of Edward Waverly. Waverly navigates his way through a pre-Jacobite Scotland, caught in the middle of both sides of the conflict.
5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher at an elite Edinburgh girl’s school is in her prime, make no mistake about it. Through her prime she uses unorthodox teaching methods to mold the minds of young girls in 1930s. Her prized pupils become known as the Brodie Set and through the eyes of these six girls we learn about the downfall of Miss Brodie.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a short, but powerful novel that switches back and forth between past and future to unfurl the complex events and personalities involved in the story.
6. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Time travel, a beautiful Scottish outlaw and the beginnings of the infamous Jacobite Uprising of 1745. What more could you want from a book set in Scotland?
With the end of World War II behind her, Claire Randall goes on a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank, to Inverness to celebrate the end of the war and get to know each other again. But that changes when Claire is mysteriously sent back in time to the 1740s and forced to fend for herself in the tumultuous and highly political Scottish Highlands. She quickly becomes the “guest” of Clan Mackenzie where throughout the course of Outlander she learns to navigate clan politics, gets to know a hunky man by the name of Jamie and plots her escape back to her time in the 20th century.
7. Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine
This book set in Scotland weaves an old Scottish legend across three generations of women, exploring the truth of myths and the tendency for history to repeat itself over and over again .
Women of the Dunes starts with Libby, a 21st Century university researcher, arriving in Ullaness to dig at a grave connected to an old legend of the area. However, the trip marks a professional connection for Libby whose great grandmother once lived on the neighboring estate, but mysteriously left her job at the Sturrock Estate after a murder.
This book set in Scotland connects three timelines together to tell a seamless story. The 9th Century timeline explores the ancient legend that brings Libby here. The 18th reveals just what happened to Libby’s great grandmother, and finally Libby’s own timeline uncovers mysteries of the past and present as she works to discover the truth of herself and the legend of Ullaness.
8. A Dark and Distant Shore by Reay Tannahlill
This Scottish novel explores the social impacts of a time of immense change as a determined Scottish woman fights to reclaim her birthright. Starting in 1803, the novel spans 100 years and covers a period of extreme industrial and political advancements in Scotland at the peak of the British Empire.
The novel’s central heroine, Vilia, was devastated when her father sold her family’s ancestral castle in the Scottish Highlands to a Glasgow merchant when she was 7 years old. A Dark and Distant Shore follows her journey and determination to reclaim her birthright, while deftly bringing the reader into the history of the times.
9. The Silver Darlings by Neil M. Gunn
This beautifully written work of Scottish literature captures the ordinary life of Scottish fishermen in a simple, breathtaking and heartbreaking way. Driven from their homes during the Highland Clearances, these ordinary clan families of fishermen manage to carve out a new life and community by fishing on the coast.
The Silver Darlings paints a vivid picture of a community fighting against nature and history, all the while remaining resilient in themselves, their connections and their families.
10. The Bridge by Iain Banks
John Orr emerges from the sea, devoid of any memories or personality of his own. All he has are is memories of the Bridge, his haunting dreams of a war he can’t fully remember and his desire for the Chief Engineer’s daughter.
Iain Banks is a master of Scottish literature and The Bridge is no different. This futuristic dystopian novel is funny, touching and awe-inspiring, sometimes all at once on one page. It will leave you guessing until the very end.
11. 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Welcome to 44 Scotland Street, home to some of Edinburgh’s most colorful, yet ordinary, characters. There’s Pat, a 21-year-old who has recently moved into a flat with Bruce, an athletic young man with a keen awareness of his own appearance. Their neighbor, Domenica, is an eccentric and insightful widow. In the flat below are Irene and her appealing son Bertie, who is the victim of his mother’s desire for him to learn the saxophone and italian–all at the tender age of five.
These witty and very real portrait of Edinburgh society brings out love triangles, a lost painting, intriguing new friends, and an encounter with a famous Scottish crime writer. It feels like you’re reading through a sitcom and you’ll leave the pages of the novel with a soft spot for each of the characters.
12. Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
The English have Detective Sherlock (ironically, written by a Scottish author), the Scottish have Inspector Rebus. Crime novels are a big deal in Scottish literature and Inspector Rebus is a household name across the homes of Scotland.
Knots and Crosses is the first in a long series of novels that follow the life and investigations of this beloved Scottish detective. With the city of Edinburgh being terrorized by a string of murders, Rebus must put his own problems to solve the crimes being committed by someone connected to him by an invisible knot of blood.
13. The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh
Working as an auctioneer in the 1940s, Rilke has come across many odd items during his time. However, while clearing out the house of his latest client, an elderly woman, he comes across a collection of erotic books and photos that belonged to her deceased brother. She doesn’t want to see any of it and asks that he destroy everything in his private study. Instead of honoring her request, he wishes to learn more about the disturbing images of a woman that appears to have been murdered.
The Cutting Room follows his manic search for the truth as he encounters drug dealers, porn shop owners, an amateur filmmaker, and a woman who poses nude for the camera. Exploring the darker sides of Glasgow, this book set in Scotland is a true thriller that will keep you turning pages until the very end.
14. Cold Granite by Stuart MacBridge
It’s Logan McRae’s first day back on the job after a year’s sick leave, and one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Aberdeen has taken place. Four-year-old David Reid’s body is discovered in a ditch, strangled, mutilated and a long time dead. David’s death is the first in a string as a serial killer stalks the town looking for Aberdeen’s young.
Cold Granite marks the debut novel of the Logan McRae crime series, a darker but thrilling Scottish crime series that will leave you craving more of Detective McRae at the end.
15. The Blackhouse by Peter May
Fin Macleod didn’t think he’d ever set foot on the Isle of Lewis again. But when a murder occurs there that bears a striking resemblance to a case he’s working on, he must return to this childhood home in the Hebrides.
The Blackhouse is a first in a trilogy of novels set on the Isle of Lewis. Not just another crime novel, this thrilling book set in Scotland also explores the Gaelic culture and the harsh natural reality of the northern Scottish isles.
16. The Diary of Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
Shaun Bythell owns Scotland’s largest secondhand bookstore in the charming village of Wigtown. With over 100,000 books twisting shelves, and roaring fires, owning this shop feels like a book lover’s dream.
But it’s not all fun and reading by a fire. Bythell doesn’t hold back in his funny retelling of the every day life of owning this book mecca and the crazy customers that frequent his shelves. He goes behind the scenes of running a bookstore, his journey to stock more books, his assortment of part-time workers and the struggle to keep a secondhand book shop alive in the age of Amazon.
If you aren’t wanting to jump on a plane to visit Wigtown (a book town in its own right) after reading The Diary of a Bookseller, I question your status as a book lover.
17. The Distant Echo by Val McDermid
Scottish crime novels are a hallmark of Scottish literature, but very few of them feature a female detective at the helm. The Distant Echo is the first of a series of novels with Inspector Karen Pirie at its core.
In this debut novel, the story opens to 1978 when after a drunken night of drugs and partying, Alex Gilbey and his three close friends stumble upon Rosie Duff, who has been raped, stabbed and is bleeding to death. By the time the police have arrived, Rosie has bled to death and there’s little doubt that one of the four have been involved, though little can be proved. Twenty-five years late Inspector Pirie is assigned the cold case to solve and launches herself down a twisting path of secrets as the original four start being killed one by one in her quest for the truth.
18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant lives a simple life. She goes to work, spends her nights listening to the radio, waters her plant, and catches up with mummy one day a week. She has some social oddities, but hey, who doesn’t? After all, she is completely fine.
However, as the novel progresses two events set Eleanor’s life onto an emotional journey that opens up a deep and painful past that Eleanor has worked hard to keep hidden from herself since she was 10-years-old. Eleanor slowly learns how to let others in, how to love herself and how to live in a world she feels guilty being alive in.
Set in Glasgow, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a hilarious, charming, heartwarming and inspiring story that will make you smile, laugh and cry – sometimes all at once.
19. Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
Girl Meets Boy is part of the Myth series published by Canongate, a collection of novels that retell mythological classics through a Scottish frame. In this novel, recreates Ovid’s Iphis and Ianthe from Metamorphosis in modern Inverness.
This book set in Scotland switches between two sisters: Imogen and Anthea. Imogen is a ladder climber and go-getter at a public relations firm in Inverness. She even got her sister, Anthea, a job at the firm, though Anthea hates working there. Before long Anthea falls in love with Robin, a boyish woman protester who spends her nights spraying radical messages around the city. Anthea joins Robin in her spray painting mission across the city, while Imogen dives deeper into the darker side of business.
With its humor and warmth, Girl Meets Boy uses the framework of a classic myth to explore the fluidity of gender and love in this modern masterpiece of Scottish literature.
20. The Highland Witch by Susan Fletcher
In the wake of the horrific massacre at Glencoe, Corrag sits waiting to be burned at the stake for being a witch. For those unfamiliar with Scottish history, the massacre of Glencoe is an infamous event where the King William III ordered a member of Clan Campbell to murder any man, woman or child under the age of 70 of Clan MacDonald at their home in Glencoe. Corrag witnessed the horrendous event and escaped only to be jailed and accused of being a witch.
The Highland Witch, also known as Corrag and Witch Light, is told from the point of view of Corrag as she awaits death, and an Irish reverend seeking to prove the king’s connection to the deadly massacre.
21. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
This Scottish novel is told through letters spread across World War I and World War II. Just before the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, Elspeth Dunn receives a letter from David Graham, a young college student from Chicago. Elspeth, though a published poet, has never left her home on the Isle of Skye but finds a friend across the ocean as her and David continue to exchange letters for years.
Fast forward to 1941 and Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Elspeth tries to warn her daughter against love in war and instead sends Margaret on a journey to learn more about her mother’s past and the identity of the father she never knew.
Letters From Skye is not just a love story set in Scotland, but explores the love of the land and the effect of both of the World Wars on Scotland.
22. The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark
Elizabeth Pringle has been a familiar sight on the beautiful Island of Arran for over 90 years. A retired teacher and spinster, whether she’s riding her bike around the island or tending her garden, Elizabeth Pringle has been an institution on the Island of Arran.
When she passes away, she leaves her house to a young mother she once saw pushing a stroller down the street. The woman, Anna, had slipped a letter to the door expressing her love of Elizabeth’s home, “Holmlea,” and asking to buy the house. Unfortunately, Anna is now in a home for dementia, so it falls to her daughter, Martha, to take up Elizabeth Pringle’s inheritance.
The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle dives into the lives of Martha and Elizabeth, exploring the history and people of the Island of Arran in a vivid and enchanting way.
23. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
This controversial book follows the lives of 16-year-old Frank and his family in a remote village in Scotland. Their life is unconventional and hard. Frank’s mother abandoned them years ago. His older brother, Eric, is hospitalized in a psychiatric institution. And Frank uses animal torture as a ritual to copy with his every day. Things become even more horrific when Eric escapes from the hospital and comes home seeking revenge.
The Wasp Factory is not a book for everyone. This book set in Scotland is extremely polarizing among readers, who find some of the events hard to stomach. However, Banks writing is terrific and while Frank’s coping mechanisms are questionable at best, there are no questions behind the horrific past that has gotten him to this point.
24. At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
Maddie and Ellis Hyde are dependent on Maddie’s father-in-law for everything. But when they embarrass themselves at a New Year’s Eve party in 1942, Ellis’ father cuts them off and leaves them to their own devices. Ellis decides the only way to gain favor back with his father is to do what his father was never able to do – find the Loch Ness Monster.
At the Water’s Edge follows Maddie, Ellis and their wealthy friend Hank in search of the fabled monster while a real human monster by the name of Hitler devastates the rest of Europe.
25. Sealskin by Su Bristow
Selkies, seals that turn into people, are one of the staples of Scottish mythology. Sealskin by Su Bristow is a modern retelling of this ancient Scot story.
Donald, a young fisherman, lives a lonely life on the coast of Western Scotland. One day he comes upon the beautiful Mairhi, a selkie that has transformed into a human, and has to make her his own. Bristow does a beautiful job of retelling this story while touching on the more troublesome aspects of a story typically associated as a magical fairy tale.
26. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Now also a movie, Trainspotting explores the life of drug-addicted working class youth growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland. This classic coming of age novel set in Scotland covers the darker sides of city life for those in the working class of Scotland. It is rich in Scot words and phrases, so those not familiar with the dialect may struggle at times.
27. The Observations by Jane Harris
This book set in Scotland centers around Bessy, an Irish maid who takes a position at a big house outside Edinburgh. As she becomes more engrained in the household, she discovers an uncommon affection that Arabella had for her previous maid Nora, who died under mysterious circumstances.
As The Observations progresses, Bessy becomes more entrenched in the mystery of Nora’s death and risks losing everything she holds dear as she dives deeper into those events.
28. Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie
With whiskey in short supply during World War II, the northern Scottish Isles are suffering in more ways than they count. Then a stroke of luck hits and a ship with 50,000 bottles of whiskey crashes on the shores of their island. Hilarious hijinks ensue as the residents on the island figure out what to do with this booty of whiskey.
Based on a true story, Whisky Galore is a hysterically funny wartime book set in Scotland that will have your ribs cracking from laughter and shows a warmer side to a period that cast darkness over the entire world.
29. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
While researching for a book she’s writing on the unsuccessful Jacobite Uprising of 1707, author Carrie McCelland visits Slain Castle in northern Scotland. This visit solidifies her decision to make this area the base of her operations for her research on the book. However, shortly after moving there she begins having haunting visions of another woman from 1708. As she slowly starts to submerge herself into the life of this other woman from the 1700s, her own life takes on a similar path.
The Winter Sea beautifully weaves together the history of Jacboite Scotland in a way that teaches without you even realizing you’re being taught just because of the magic of the story. It’s the perfect Scottish novel for someone who is interested in the history of Scotland but not interested in reading a history book.
30. Under the Skin by Michael Faber
Isserley drives along the A9 motorway through the Scottish Highlands searching for hitchhikers. She has very specific guidelines: males with lots of muscle mass. Why does she do this? Well you’ll just have to read the book to find out, but Under the Skin by Michael Faber is a complex and thrilling science fiction novel that keeps you enthralled from page 1. It has even been turned into a movie with Scarlett Johansson taking on the title role of Isserley.