Heaven and the Heather
The publisher calls debuting author Elizabeth Holcombe’s Heaven and the Heather a “Highland Fling,” which is true in more ways than one. The word “fling” accurately describes the relationship between the hero and heroine, and also what I wanted to do to the book while I was reading it: fling it somewhere far away.
Sabine de Sainte Montagne is not happy to be living in Scotland, not one little bit. A Frenchwoman, her opinion of Scotland is of a land infested with sauvages. Since her deceased father left her as a lady-in-waiting to Scotland’s Queen Mary Stuart five years ago, Sabine has dreamed of returning to France. Now that the Queen has decided to betrothe her to a Scottish nobleman, her plans for freedom can wait no longer. Because she wanted only to practice her art, Sabine has not enjoyed her years with the Queen. Her father thought her dream foolish and cruelly disfigured her hand in order to stop her nonsense. In order to facilitate her plans, she carries her mother’s monetary inheritance with her, which she will use for passage back to France.
The MacGregor clan of Scotland has made a powerful enemy of Sabine’s betrothed, John Campbell. Campbell has power in Scotland and has ordered that any MacGregors be pursued with fire and sword. Niall MacGregor, head of the clan, lost his father to Campbell’s treachery and is determined to have an audience with the Queen to tell her the truth: that Campbell is a liar and a snake. Never mind that Campbell has the ear of the queen and for his loyalty has been given Sabine in return.
The first meeting between Sabine and Niall sets the stage for the rest of the story. He runs a chicken under her skirts as she is disembarking from the ship as part of his convoluted plan to obtain an audience with the queen. He steals her purse afterward so that she will help him later. Sabine has opinion of Scottish savages confirmed with Niall’s appearance, although her “rescuer” appears to be mighty handsome under all the dirt. She is initially more interested in Campbell’s overzealous reaction to a MacGregor, and then later realizes that her freedom, in the form of her purse, has been stolen from her.
Sabine’s character is the epitome of a spoiled noblewoman. She is condescending and arrogant to all those she meets. She has no friends among the other women who serve the queen. She continuously calls Niall names, berates him, and at one point slaps him. Even as their relationship develops, her behavior continues in this manner, and what’s worse, she has no desire to overcome any of her character flaws. Her only strength is her determination to continue her art even with a crippled hand.
Niall isn’t much better. He falls for Sabine’s overwhelming beauty right away, but steals her money (although he doesn’t intend to use it) and holds it over her head to try and obtain what he wants. That obviously wouldn’t endear any woman to him, yet he expects Sabine to help him without complaint.
These two seem wholly unsuited as a couple; I cannot imagine them enjoying any kind of happy ending. When Sabine visits Niall’s clan, the rigors of life in the Highlands are well demonstrated. Sabine and Niall frolic around as if they are living in a fairy tale. Had this story been set up as a fairy tale I would have had no problem, but it’s a bad idea for an author to explain the cruel hardships of real life, and then present the hero with a flimsy, spoiled heroine and expect them to live happily ever after.
There isn’t even room to enter into a full discussion of the description of the formulaic secondary characters that roam around. Evil other woman Niall is supposed to marry? Check. Close friend who may not be what he seems? Check. Spoiled queen? Check. Nasty villain? Check. The homosexual costumer was somewhat funny, but the author only used him as comic relief so that the other men could feel threatened by his advances. Straight out of romance clichés 101.
The ending was completely unbelievable – it was so ridiculous I LOL, which I’m sure the author did not intend. Heaven and the Heather wins my own personal award for the most unbelievable plot of the year 2002. I can suspend disbelief for many settings and story lines, but this one was simply too much. There is nothing that I can recommend about this trip through Scotland except not to get off the boat. Wait for a better offering to come along.