Saturday, December 18, 2010

On a Highland Shore by Kathleen Givens

Book Description:
In an age when Norse invaders threaten Scottish civilization, one woman will defend her clan's honor and claim her own exceptional destiny.

1263: As the Highland village of Somerstrath prepares for the joyous wedding of Margaret MacDonald, the laird's daughter, a dark storm of bloodshed and betrayal closes in.... Now, determined to hold her shattered clan together and locate her abducted younger brother in the wake of a brutal Viking attack, Margaret must choose between obeying the dictates of King Alexander's court, or placing her trust in Gannon MacMagnus, an imposing half-Irish, half-Norse warrior. Who is this stranger who vows not to harm her? Will he vanquish the barbarous killers who would continue to destroy the rugged, magnificent land she calls home?

This was a gripping book.  From the very first chapter I was riveted to the plot line.  Some of it was terribly brutal with a sad aftermath and some parts, such as the relationship that develops between the hero and heroine, are wonderful.  It was a book full of emotion and drama.   Not your average medieval romance, this tells the story of Margaret MacDonald and the terrifying struggles she faces as a young woman who must cope with the fact she has lost the world she once knew so well.  Margaret, who could be a stubborn young woman, soon learns the hard way that those things that once seemed important to her are nothing compared to survival when tragedy strikes her happy home. 

Destined to marry a prominent Scottish nobleman at Court, Margaret is the eldest daughter of the laird of Somerstrath, a Highland village along the coastline of northern Scotland.  As she prepares for her wedding and happy future with her new husband, she is horrified to discover his unfaithfulness to her and recognizes how vain he really is.  She is disgusted and disillusioned.  She refuses to marry him, and her father gives her an ultimatum.  If she does not marry him, she marries no one and she will have to enter a nearby convent.  While deciding what to do, she travels inland with her older brother and younger sister for a few weeks at Court.  While there, an old seer woman talks to Margaret, giving her a cryptic message of a "a man of gold" and she tells Margaret she will have to fight dragons.  Upon Margaret's return to Somerstrath, the worst of the worst has happened.  She finds that the entire castle and village of Somerstrath has been raided by Norsemen - Vikings.  No one has been spared.  Women and children raped and murdered, every man dead, not a single survivor except the handful of boys they kidnapped to sell as slaves - one being Margaret's little brother, Davie.  In one fell swoop, Margaret has lost her parents and the rest of her siblings.  No one is left except her brother and sister who traveled with her to Court.   Margaret is brave and courageous, but even facing this kind of carnage is too much.  Both sisters are numb with disbelief and ever hopeful they will find their little brother hiding somewhere amidst the ashes and wreckage.  Nothing, not a trace of him.  My heart broke while reading of Margaret's loss.  Meanwhile, Margaret's older brother, who now becomes laird of the clan, turns out to be nothing more than a hindrance, only interested in his own glory and doesn't seems to care at all for anyone but himself.

Shortly after their discovery, a band of warriors arrive. They are mistaken at first as enemies, since some of them -  two brothers - are half-Norse and half-Irish.  A struggle ensues, but soon enough it becomes apparent they are friendly and are only trying to help.  They help Margaret and what is left of her family pick up the pieces of their lives. They aide them in burying their dead and removing to another nearby fishing village down the coast.  There, they can be safe and wait for their uncle who also has his hands full with other raids going on along the coast. 

From this point on, everyone lives in terror of the Norse raiders return, which is certain.    Margaret soon becomes friendly with Gannon, the elder of the two half-Norse warriors that have come to help.  It's clear that Gannon is the "golden one" whom the old seer woman referred to, although Margaret doesn't realize this at first.  They are drawn to one another and soon fall in love amidst all the terrible horror that has happened.    Gannon remains by her side, but soon must go out after the leader of the Norse raiders, leaving Margaret behind.  As a strong and able bodied man he must do this, but he hates the idea of leaving her alone and unprotected - by him.  Of course, the village is raided again while he is away, and Margaret is taken away.  These raids are absolutely devastating to read about!  Kathleen Givens is great at describing these events .  I must say, I was very impressed with her writing here, much more than in her Kilgannon books which I found a bit dreary.  There is tons of excitement and action and angst!  Can Gannon rescue her?  How can Margaret survive, will the leader rape her?  Will she ever find her brother?  On top of everything else going on is the strong bond between Margaret and Gannon.  He is modest and must deal with the fact everyone looks at him as if he is the enemy because of his blond Nordic looks.  He is a quiet leader, strong and capable, sharp and intelligent.   He also loves deeply and forever.  He knows Margaret is his soul mate and he will do anything to get her back.

I really loved this book, I'm leaving a ton out, it's too hard to fully describe everything, a lot happens!  It was hard to put down once I got about 50 pages into it and I looked forward to reading it every chance I got.   One of my greatest regrets upon finishing it, was that the late Kathleen Givens died before ever writing the sequel.  What a talent!  Such a shame.  On a Highland Shore has a few loose ends that I'm sure she intended to address.  One big one, in particular, was about her younger sister and the mysterious Scotsman she meets at Court for a brief time.  He is older, yet he tells her in so many words, they are destined to marry one day, and he will wait for her to grow up.  Does she ever meet him again?   And what about Davie? 

Do yourself a favor, if this is a time period you're interested in, read this book.  For one thing, it's a real eye opener about  the Island Scots and Norse raiders who battled over the northern island territories in the Middle Ages.   Viking raids were not uncommon and totally devastating with their long ships and fierce warriors descending upon coastal villages and wreaking havoc everywhere they went.  No wonder the Viking were so legendary and feared!  The vivid descriptions and events of this story bring it all to life up until the very last page.  The characterizations are excellent and I grew attached to many of the side characters too, Gannon's brother was a favorite.   I highly recommend this novel!



Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

this looks so good, but i think it sounds a little too intense for me. thanks for the great review!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Carrie, yes there are intense moments, but not too bad, it is a romance afterall! But, the slaughtering and worry over the Norsemen makes it suspenseful and hard to put down!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I loved this book! It struck me as different than the usual historical romances. Held my interest from start to finish. Great review!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Julia, I agree, it was different from the usual! Memorable, wasn't it!

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