Heather Graham has another winner in this, the latest chapter in the saga of the McKenzies, a Florida family whose loyalties are torn and tested during the Civil War. It came very close to being a Desert Isle Keeper for me; only the ending really spoiled it.
Dr. Julian McKenzie leads his patrol of Confederate militiamen to a remote house that appears abandoned. In fact, it’s occupied by Rhiannon Tremaine, a widow with Union sympathies. She has a reputation as a healer and a white witch, because she sometimes has dreams of the future.
She’s also addicted to laudanum. The pain of reliving – through her dreams – her husband Richard’s death on a battlefield is too much for her, and she takes the drug to escape. Julian catches her combining the laudanum with wine, a lethal combination. In the struggle that ensues, she mistakes him for Richard and gives herself to him. Later she’s unsure whether it was a dream or a real event. Julian has no such uncertainty; when he leaves the next day, he’s amazed at what passed between them during the night.
He’s forced to return to the house, both to appropriate her medicines and to kidnap her, so that she can assist him in surgery to save his cousin’s life. He constantly taunts her about their night together, and she steadfastly denies that anything took place. But she secretly wonders if what he claims is the truth. She’s already accepted Julian’s diagnosis of her addiction, and his comforting presence during her withdrawal, so she asks herself: Is he lying when he says they’ve shared such intimacy?
Forced apart, each can’t stop thinking about the other. They meet again at the battle of Gettysburg, when Rhiannon has already admitted to herself that it must be true, since she’s pregnant. A shotgun wedding follows in short order – but who is forcing whom? Needless to say, they still have some angst to suffer through before they stumble to their happily-ever-after.
This was a real page-turner for me. The incredible amount of history that Graham incorporates would normally irritate the bejeebers out of me, but the momentum of the story kept things going along at a decided clip. Graham really knows her stuff and, more importantly in this context, knows how to bring it into her story. The dialogue is solid; her ability to give each character his or her own distinct style of speaking is to be envied by lesser writers. There’s lots of sexual tension, so that even when Julian and Rhiannon are apart, they (and the reader) are constantly thinking of each other. And boy, can Graham evoke the atmosphere of blood and death and gallantry on the battlefield!
That said, Glory is not without its flaws. Some secondary characters, most notably the free “darkee” (Graham’s term) Sissy, struck me as cardboard stereotypes. The whole, “Yes, I’m a Southerner and a Confederate, but I never owned slaves” device used in antebellum and Civil War-era romances – one that goes back at least to Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower – has gotten old for me. If this many real Southerners had not owned slaves, there would never have been a reason for the war in the first place!
The other quibble is the intrusion of Julian’s family members: there are too many McKenzies! While it’s often a treat to catch up with characters you’ve met before in previous books, too much of a good thing only detracts from the story you’re trying to enjoy at the moment. Besides, if you haven’t read the previous books, it can be frustrating and confusing. At one point, even Graham gets confused, referring to Julian’s cousin Sydney as his sister.
The ending seemed tacked-on and contrived, involving a character who had not appeared anywhere else in the book, but by that point I had enjoyed it so much that it wasn’t a major detraction. I almost put it on my keeper shelf; if it weren’t for all those cousins and the glued-on ending, it might have made it.