I might as well warn you now – this book isn’t for everyone. It’s third in the Highland Brides series, which definitely should be read in order. It’s also remarkably un-Scottish for a book with Highland in the title. To top it off, the historical detail is decidedly wallpaperesque, and the cover is horrible – the hero looks like he’s sporting a poorly-made Halloween costume. But – I couldn’t help liking it anyway. The hero and heroine have a charming, unique relationship that I truly enjoyed reading about.
Liam the Irishman grew up near Forbes castle, and though he was well-liked by the Laird, he is widely known as a rogue. He’s a talented magician and juggler, adept at entertaining crowds to earn his keep. While he’s traveling through England with his act, he gets into a fight with a jealous husband. To his surprise he is rescued by Rachel Forbes and her entourage of guards.
Rachel is on her way to tend to Scotland’s young king, but her mission is a secret one. She allows the injured Liam to join her group, but she tells him she is traveling to join her fiancé. Liam is instantly jealous. He has loved Rachel ever since he can remember, but since she is the daughter of the Laird, he considers her far out of his reach. Rachel also has feelings for Liam. But when she told him how she felt as a young girl, he sent her away because he felt unworthy of her love.
However, the two soon have bigger problems to worry about. In the earlier Highland books, the evil sorcerer Warwick was introduced. Warwick is after a special medallion called dragonheart – he knows Rachel has it. Both of them have limited psychic abilities, and when they sense Warwick’s evil presence in the middle of a ferry crossing, they jump off the ferry and go over a waterfall. They are now on their own, without protection. As they journey north, they concoct various schemes to obtain food and shelter. They are in constant danger from several different sources. Eventually they take up with a band of gypsies and pose as husband and wife. Forced to share a small wagon, they can barely control their desire for each other. Just when they finally give in, they are discovered by Warwick, and are forced to go into hiding together. Can they use the power of their love to overcome his evil?
This book had a lot going for it, and one of its most notable assets was the hero. I’ve seen plenty of jugglers and entertainers in medieval romances, but they usually function as secondary characters – often friends or advisors of the hero or heroine. Liam was the first such character I’ve seen as the hero. His behavior was so different from the predominant warrior clichés. It’s not that he was a coward, but he was more likely to use his wits to escape a sticky situation than to pull out a claymore. He was also funny – basically the medieval equivalent of a class clown.
Liam and Rachel had been friends since childhood, and they used both friendship and love to carry them through their difficult journey. Part of the suspense in the book came about because Warwick had a psychic ability to feel Rachel and Liam’s presence. They repeatedly countered this by putting their minds together and dreaming of a quiet, romantic place far from danger. I liked this unity. There was also a wonderful scene near the end where Liam was seriously injured and they were both in hiding. The circumstances were terrible, but Liam and Rachel kept up a running joke that they were in a palace with tons of servants. It was funny, and touching also.
If you are a stickler for historical realism, however, the rapport between the hero and heroine might not be enough for you. The flavor of the time never really comes through in the characters’ voices or their actions. There is more than one anachronistic reference. And for some reason I could never figure out, some of the gypsies have Scottish names. Marta at least sounded possible, but I couldn’t reconcile myself to gypsies named Lachlan and Rory.
This book is also third in a series. Though I’d read the second one, I was still a bit confused, especially with some of the information about Warwick. If you think you can get past the historical problems, by all means give this one a try. It’s a fun road romance and the unique hero is like a breath of fresh air. However, I strongly recommend starting with the first book in the series and reading them in order.