I had a penchant for a historical medieval romance and it was just a bonus that it was set in the Highlands of Scotland. I haven’t read this author’s work yet so I eagerly dived right in and got lost in the surprising story because I didn’t realize that I was also getting a strong intrigue element along with a slight magical one on top of the period backdrop and romance. The story’s tone isn’t one that stayed put in that many of the events and situations should have made for a more serious, darker tone, but yet the way the main characters were drawn and the relationship between them was lighter with lots of passionate encounters.
This is the second story in a series. Yep, I did it again. I saw a story that sounded appealing and I snapped it up for a read before paying attention to see if it was part of a series. Luckily, I didn’t have trouble. In fact, it looked like this story sort of paralleled the other one chronologically in ways. The characters from the first book are strong minor characters in this one and their story didn’t seem to have reached its resolve yet. Just like the hero and heroine from the third book have a separate plot thread going along through this one showing their story also parallels the first and second one. All that to say that this can be read out of order without any wailing or gnashing of teeth.
The story opens when Isabail Grant’s coach is attacked and her outriding defenders are killed or incapacitated by her family’s greatest enemy, Aidan MacCurran. MacCurran stole the jeweled necklace meant to be a gift from the king to his future queen, was caught and her brother as judiciary sentenced him for it. Then someone helped him escape and he poisoned several people so that they died including her brother. He was deemed an outlaw and forfeited his lands with his clan scattered. His fiercesome face and huge warrior body terrify her, but he claims that he is innocent of all charges and wants to prove his innocence. He requires the names of the five strangers that came to her brother’s keep that knight because he is looking for the mysterious man in black who is responsible for it all. There is no way that she believes any of this and will hold to silence while looking for a chance to escape.
Aidan is so angry at the injustices done to him and the misery meted out on his clan because of the decision of John Grant. He wants his innocence proven and restoration made, but most of all he wants to avenge himself on the shadowy man in black who caused it all. Grant’s sister holds the clue to the man’s identity, but she is not forthcoming. Indeed she is terrified of him and seeking her escape. He is the laird of his clan and personal considerations have to be set aside for his clan’s welfare if that includes any means necessary to get Isabail talking then so be it. Now he just has to convince himself not to inwardly cringe every time she flinches or swoons out of fear of him.
The plot on this one had a tendency to swing between crystal clear to fuzzy vagary as the story unfolded. Some things stand out sharply while others that seemed important are allowed to be set aside with the story progression on without addressing them. Because of the intrigue element, I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt that much of this vaguery is on purpose. It was just an odd sensation as I was reading which is why I point it out.
The historical backdrop is interesting since its 13th Century Scotland. I loved it because it was both medieval and highlander. The way of life is depicted though this is only a minimal part of the story- just a piece of interest to a history lover like me.
The intrigue is political in nature as it involves the King and shifting in power and allegiances among the clans. There were several clues given, but it is obvious that this is meant to be the ongoing connecting story arc through the series. Each book offers further clues and advancements toward the final solution.
The characters are engaging and I liked them though they are only lightly sketched since this is more of an action-driven than character-driven plot. Aidan and Isabail are enemies, but only for as long as it takes her to see him with his people and even the way he is with her. She outwardly resists the truth, but it’s really no contest. She can see the evidence that he is not the black-hearted killer he was painted to be. So, for me, the added tension that an enemies to lovers romance wasn’t really there and Isabail’s fence-riding did her no favors though fortunately it wasn’t enough to bring on more than mild boredom and irritation. There is really a lack of significant romantic development, but- now this may seem odd- I wasn’t really bothered by this. I liked it just the way it was between these two. I was actually relieved for a less complicated almost insta-love relationship. Isabail is a widow and no shy virgin so the passion had some heat to it between the two. Isabail might swoon at the sight of a scowl, but she still has some sass and backbone when it counts and Aidan might have a temper, but he is truly smitten by Isabail and he tries to court her in his own bumbling, rough way.
The other characters, Niall, Ana, Magnus, Jamie and even the deerhound, were favorites that I will be glad to read about when I go back for Niall and Ana’s book and then read on to Magnus/Wulf and Morag’s story. Even the villain was a surprise when I cottoned to the identity well before Isabail did. This person was only the open villain and I look forward to discovering who the one in the shadows is though I have my suspicions.
The hint of mysticism with Ana’s healing arts and the druid’s prophetic words was pretty cool too.
All in all, I had a good time with this one and I will gladly pick up more from this author particularly in this series. It wasn’t deep or meticulous, but it hit the spot as a rousing good medieval Highland adventure and romance.
My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.