Book Description (Amazon): In the harsh Scottish highlands of 1565, superstition and treachery threaten a truce between rival clans. It’s a weak truce at first, bound only by an arranged engagement between Anne MacGregor and Niall Campbell-the heirs of the feuding families.
While Niall wrestles with his suspicions about a traitor in his clan, Anne’s actions do not go unnoticed. And as accusations of witchcraft abound, the strong and sometimes callous Campbell heir must fight for Anne’s safety among disconcerted clan members. Meanwhile his own safety in threatened with the ever-present threat of someone who wants him dead.
Will Niall discover the traitor’s identity in time? Can Anne find a way to fit into her new surroundings? Will the two learn to love each other despite the conflict? With a perfect mix of a burgeoning romance and thrilling suspense, this book is historical fiction at its best.
My Review (Spoilers!):
Executive Summary: predictable
I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t. It was too predictable, and it didn’t feel like it was set in the time it was supposed to be. Sure, the author used some words like “mayhap” and “ye” to make it seem authentic, but let’s be realistic. In 1564, people in Scotland weren’t speaking English. Women in Scotland in the 1500s weren’t wearing ivory silk wedding dresses. I doubt they had access to silk, and ivory was not the color of weddings until much more recently (my grandmother wore a blue wedding dress as it turns out).
The other issue I had with this book is that it was Christian. And no, not for the reason you may think. In many ways, I thought the author did a good job of making it a Christian book without it being too pushy. But in other ways, I felt like Anne was far from Christian. Maybe she was just a little dense. I’m not sure.
The book begins with Niall Campbell and his wife, who is dying in childbirth. He is understandably grief-stricken, but there is someone who is happy at his despair (cue foreboding music).
The book then switches to Anne MacGregor, a woman with healing skills. Despite her father (the clan chief…is that what they are called?) forbidding her from leaving the castle due to unrest between them and their rival clan (the Campbells), she leaves to help a woman in childbirth. Of course, the Campbells attack while she is there, and they witness her breathing into the baby’s mouth to get the baby to begin breathing (successfully). The clansmen think she’s a witch, and take her outside to kill her. She buys time by insulting them, and is luckily spared by their leader whose orders were only to steal cattle, not hurt anyone.
Immediately next in the book, Alastair MacGregor (Anne’s father) is in his castle accepting a visitor from the Clan Campbell who is dressed in MacGregor tartan. This unknown man makes a bargain with Alastair on how to end the feuding–by capturing the leader of Clan Campbell, Niall, in a trap.
The trap comes and Niall is captured. He realizes that it’s a trap, but it’s too late. Anne steps in and saves him since he saved her earlier. (Gosh, I wonder who the love story is going to be between!) He isn’t killed but rather placed in the dungeon. She nurses him back to health with her healing skills, despite “hating” him so much.
Some members of Clan Campbell come and harass Alastair to release Niall. Alastair lets slip to Anne that he was working with a traitor to capture Niall in the first place. Alastair decides to go speak to Niall to devise a plan that will help them both. The MacGregor’s honor would be weakened if Niall were just surrendered, and because of helping Anne, he cannot be killed. The two decide that the best way to settle things, and potentially stop the fighting between the clans is for Niall and Anne to marry. Niall refuses due to his wife’s recent death, but they settle on a year’s handfasting. (I was unfamiliar with handfasting, but it’s essentially an engagement or a marriage depending on what you read). Anne begrudgingly agrees to the arrangement, but she hates it. It goes against her religious morals (I’m really skeptical that this actually went against religious morals of the time, and it gave me a bit of distaste for the book so early in the story). She gets Niall to agree to no fornication during the handfasting, and then agrees that it would be the best thing for the clans (honestly like her opinion ever mattered. This wasn’t set in the 21st century.).
She packs her things and they do the handfasting ceremony. She meets Niall’s cousin Iain, and there is an obvious connection between the two. She rides beside Iain on the way back to the Campbell castle and learns a bit more about the family. She tells Iain that she is a Christian and a healer, and he tells her to be careful with her healing due to suspicion of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Niall is thinking of all the people who could be the traitor, and Iain’s name comes to the top of his list as he would have much to gain from it. So now the main point of the book is set. Anne likes Iain because he’s nice to her (wants her). Niall suspects Iain of being the traitor, and therefore keeps him at arm’s length. Anne doesn’t understand why Niall is being so mean to poor Iain, and she defends him, making everything worse.
They reach the castle, and no one likes her. For the most part, she does try very hard to befriend people. She prays for them, and she genuinely tries to befriend Caitlin, Niall’s sister, to no avail. Everyone is suspicious of her for a variety of reasons. And of course, Anne doesn’t do anything to alleviate the suspicions. She keeps all of her dried herbs. She goes out into the forest and plants her fresh herbs. She wears her MacGregor tartan around. She befriends the local healer “witch”. She goes riding alone with Iain. All the meanwhile, Niall is trying to figure out who has betrayed him–Iain, Iain’s father, Duncan, or the lunatic Hugh (all carefully overseen by the religious man, Malcolm). And when Anne meets these people for the first time, it’s obvious who she thinks is the traitor, and no twist or anything, that is exactly who it was!
Anne and Niall continue to argue about her being allowed to do her healing (seriously all they do the entire book is argue). She gets upset the one day and rides off alone. She is followed by Hugh who tries to drown her in the lock. Luckily Niall arrives just in time to save her, and Hugh is banished from the castle.
Anne has befriended “the Campbell” (Niall’s father), who is dying. The Campbell is convinced by Duncan to ask the queen for a land grant for the MacGregor lands which she provided, which makes Anne furious (understandably). Anne and Niall, who were sort of growing closer after him saving her, go back to arguing and hating each other. Immediately thereafter, the Campbell starts to fade off. He asks for Anne who refuses him, but of course is coaxed in the end. She is with him when he dies, and as she is seen handing him a cup (by the slutty maid who Niall nearly slept with), is suspected of poisoning him.
Niall becomes “the Campbell” and elects Duncan to be his tanist. Anne eventually gets with the program and goes to destroy her herb garden and dispose of all her dried herbs. She notices that some of her dried foxglove has been taken, but no one knows how. While digging up and destroying her garden, Niall comes to find her (as she is all alone), and he gets shot with an arrow (meant for her). He survives, but is weak. The doctor and Ena tend to him, but it becomes apparent too late that he has been poisoned with the stolen foxglove.
As Anne and Ena are trying to help him recover, Duncan and Malcolm arrive and take Ena away for being a witch and “poisoning the chief”. Anne instructs Caitlin and Agnes (the maid) on how to help Niall recover since she is no longer allowed to see him. She also asks Agnes to send a message to Iain to let him know that Niall is sick, and she is in trouble. She goes to Duncan and confesses to being a witch to get Ena out of the dungeon. Anne then is placed in the dungeon. There she learns that Nelly, the slutty maid, has been helping the traitor spy on everyone (and that Nelly was the one who had been poisoning Niall by the traitor’s orders), but she doesn’t learn who the traitor is. Anne is then sentenced to burn at the stake, which of course she is rescued from by her two gallant fellows–freshly recovered Niall and friendzoned Iain.
Everyone is back in the castle to recover, and Nelly is found murdered. Duncan and Malcolm appealed to the queen that the laws were not being followed, so Anne devises a brilliant (*sarcasm*) plan. She sneaks into Iain’s room in the middle of the night to tell him that she is going to just go back to her father’s castle. (It seems very un-Christian, or at the very least very dense, for a Christian woman betrothed to a man to be visiting another man alone, in the middle of the night, and all but encouraging his romantic advances.) She thinks that she’s too much of a danger to everything where she is, and she is going to just go home, and everything will be better. Not like everything will be exactly the same for Niall whether she is there or not. Not that her confiding in Iain is going to make Niall take everything out on him. Nope. Like a child playing peek-a-boo. Cover your eyes and everything’s OK. Brilliant.
Her party is attacked as she leaves the castle. She is kidnapped and taken to the hideout that Hugh, Iain, and Niall played in as kids. She’s locked in the tower by Hugh who comes to assault her. Niall awakes to find her missing, and immediately goes to see Iain. Iain confesses as to what has happened (Niall sends him to the dungeon), and Niall goes to recover the foolish girl. He finds her guards dead, and tracks her to the tower. Hugh is killed, and Niall and Anne manage to hold off Hugh’s men until the rest of the Campbells arrive.
They return to the Campbell castle, and Niall finds Duncan waiting for him. He tells Niall to renounce the right to chieftan since he’s no longer fit (because he’s been bewitched). Apparently he has to fight the champion that they send out to be allowed entrance in the castle. (I’m not sure why, but that’s just the rule apparently.) Iain comes out. They fight until Niall is about to kill Iain, and Anne runs in to save him. Iain reveals that his father, Duncan, is the traitor. Duncan raises a crossbow to shoot Niall, but Iain jumps in front of him instead. Duncan is attacked and killed.
Iain and Niall recover and make amends. Hugh and Duncan are buried. Malcolm is banished (it is unclear to me how it is that Malcolm is a Christian preacher but his crazy ideas are never really addressed as the fact that he and Anne are both technically Christians). Anne is again allowed to do her healing, and she takes Caitlin as a pupil. Niall takes Anne back to Castle MacGregor, and surprises her by getting married (for reals this time). (This is where she wears the ivory silk dress that I mentioned in the beginning.)
Happily ever after.
Verdict: 2.5 stars
This book fell very flat for me in many ways–the “historical” aspect of the historical fiction, the romance (arguing the whole time does not equal romance), and the Christianity. I will most certainly not be reading the sequel(s).