Saturday, January 30, 2010
Loyalty and honor. A Highland warrior prizes both more than life, and when he swears his oath on the dirk, he must obey or die. Duncan Cameron heeds his chief's order without question, but discovers his wife-to-be is no fair maiden. Although women are no longer trained in the art of fighting, Rory MacGregor follows in the footsteps of her Celtic ancestors. Secrets from the past and superstitious folk endanger Rory and Duncan as much as Bonnie Prince Charlie and his uprising to win back the British throne for his father. Rory and Duncan must make difficult choices that pit honor and duty against trust and love...
This is one of those books that had been on my TBR list forever! I don't even remember where I got the idea to read it, except that it was recommended for Outlander fans. Something that was supposed to be similar to Jamie and Claire - the hero and heroine in the Outlander Series. For one thing, the book wasn't easy to get hold of, but lo and behold, I found out recently that it was available on Kindle, so I bought it and finally got around to reading it. The anticipation was great, for I had heard good things about it.
What a disappointment.
It's not that it was all that bad, but I was expecting a sweeping, well written Scottish romance and instead it was this long, plodding, somewhat dull account of the events leading up to the Battle of Culloden and it's aftermath in the Scottish highlands. Yes, there was a romance somewhere in the story, and that is what I found most disappointing - the lack thereof.
As the book starts out we are introduced to our hero and heroine in the Scottish highlands. Rory MacGregor is posing as a smuggler, known in the highlands as "Thistle." No one realizes Thistle is a woman and she keeps it this way. She helps the poor and defenseless. It also turns out that she is the chief of her outlawed clan of the MacGregors who have had to hide and live in secret, all their lands and rights stripped away. Duncan, our hero, is ordered by his chief to marry Rory, a deal that was made when she was a little girl. He likes her right away and can't wait to marry her, but she's against the idea, yet she must do it to help her clan. It's complicated, but they marry by handfasting, but she insists that they do not consummate the marriage. She has no intention of staying married to him and does not want children to complicate the matter. Poor Duncan is led around by the nose by Rory and does whatever she says. He agrees. Some warrior! He thinks he can convince her to change her mind before a year and a day are up. Unfortunately, he's not around enough to convince her since he has to go off to battle for most of the book! Rory is also fighting her own conscience in regard to her marriage. She likes Duncan and is attracted to him, but he is half Campbell, a clan that was responsible for the death of her mother and loved ones - a clan she will forever despise.
Meanwhile, Bonnie Prince Charlie is getting ready to invade Scotland and Duncan must join up under his clan chief. He leaves Rory behind to act as temporary chief of his clan, the Cameron's. He and his chief and all the other Cameron warriors go off to battle for about two years or so. This part of the book seemed like an eternity to get through. Duncan is traipsing all over Scotland and parts of England following his clan chief and Bonnie Prince Charlie in a hopeless stab at an uprising. I would say for the whole middle of this book Duncan and Rory are apart. In fact, it's all mostly from his point of view, we don't even know what she's going through most of this time except for some brief parts when she is almost raped and adopts a baby whose is orphaned. But, Rory has the "second sight" and she can foretell the future and she also has a way of popping in on Duncan as if it's a dream (but it's not) from time to time to comfort him when he is gravely ill or down in the dumps. Still, it was a slog getting through all the battles and marching through snow and illnesses, etc. If I'm not mistaken, the author self published this book, and in this respect it showed. I'm sure her research on the battles of Prestonpans and Culloden was first rate, but it made for a very dull and long interlude with no action or romance between Rory and Duncan. She should have cut this part back, it went on for much too long, it was a struggle just to get through it!
Why did I persist in finishing it if it was such a struggle? Because this was one of the books in my TBR Challenge and I just wanted to get it over with! I had already given up on a previous book I'd started on Kindle (Dark Prince, Book 1 of the Carpathians which I couldn't stand), so I was determined to get through The Scottish Thistle come hell or high water! And I did! I have to pat myself on the back - a true challenge to finish it!
Aside from the boring war scenes of the book (and I'm not saying I dislike war scenes in general, I usually don't mind them as long as they don't go on forever), the romance part of it was light and I kept comparing it to Outlander wondering if the author was a big fan of Diana Gabaldon and decided to try her own hand at the battle of Culloden. I saw many similarities in the two books, but Rory and Duncan were nothing like Jamie and Claire. For one thing, for most of the story Rory won't even admit she loves Duncan! It's while he's away she realizes she loves him all of a sudden! We're supposed to believe in this great love between them and there's nothing to indicate what caused it - why does she now love him - absence makes the heart grow fonder? I just didn't buy it and without any bona fide good romantic scenes (and I don't mean sexual) the book fell flat. Oh there were a few tender moments between them after he gets back from the war, injured and scarred from his battles and imprisonment, but not enough for me to believe in any great psychic love connection between them! It was a bit gimmicky with the whole second sight aspect of hers, and I kept waiting for the superstitious townspeople to try and burn her as a witch, a la Claire at Cranesmuir. Rory was also a gifted healer, another Claire Fraser similarity.
Plus, another niggling thing that bugged me was I kept wondering how are Rory and Duncan going to live in Scotland after Culloden with the British breathing down their necks and Duncan on the run to avoid hanging? The scenario did not bode well for a happily ever after ending - were they going to live together in a cave for seven years? But voila - they have their answer - the colonies! It's off to America they go - where they can be happy and maybe they'll even meet up with Jamie and Claire in twenty years!
All in all, it wasn't a bad book, but it was a big waste of time for me. If it hadn't been so long and boring and focused more on Duncan and Rory and their relationship and love it would have been a lot better and engaging. A lesson learned, when writing a book that is touted as a romance, keep the romance in it - or at least, keep the hero and heroine together for most of the story and lighten up on the war end of it. At least in Dragonfly in Amber Jamie and Claire were together leading up to Culloden, they weren't apart for half the book, though I did consider the marching and following Prince Charlie around a slog the first time I read it.
For those of you that are big Outlander fans and were considering reading this, just keep in mind, this is not another Dragonfly in Amber except that you'll feel exhausted making your way through the bitter cold of Scotland and England under the command of the hapless Prince Charles who couldn't command his way out of a paper bag. At least he's depicted here in a realistic light and not as the beloved folk hero of legend. Rory and Duncan have a very slow and long courtship. Rory is aggravating to the extreme by not admitting her love to Duncan until almost the very end of the book. And he's so smitten by her (I kept wondering why?) that he became less and less admirable in my eyes. He'd just take all the crap she'd give him without even batting an eye. Not your typical Scottish warrior in the alpha male sense. He was a good man, but needed a bit more authority when it came to his wife. He had the gentleness and honor of a Jamie Fraser, yet without Jamie's alpha side, he lacked that necessity that completes the aura of a Scottish highlander that I love so well!
I can't recommend this book, read it at your own risk. If you're into historical fiction and less on romance, then maybe you'd like it more than I did, but the gimmicky psychic connection and tepid romance parts might bug you in that case.