I think I just wanted a Jamie Fraser fix, but I should have judged Highland Magic by its awful cover. To borrow someone else’s fine turn of phrase, it features a hero I thought of as “Scottie McMullet,” kissing the throat of a woman wearing what looks like a cheap Halloween costume. After reading the book, I discovered that she actually is wearing a costume, but that doesn’t help the book much. The primary flaws lie with the main characters, both of whom could use a personality transplant.
The last thing Dr. Samantha Riley wants to do is marry Duncan Campbell. The time-traveling Scotsman is currently working on her father’s ranch, and her father would like nothing more than to see them hook up. But Samantha finds him arrogant and annoying, more suited to the century he came from (early 17th). She slept with him once and has regretted it ever since. Besides, she just hates doing what her dad tells her to do. When Samantha and her dad have one last blow out over the subject, he suffers a stroke that leaves him hospitalized and hovering near death. Samantha’s best friends all rush to her side, but she keeps them all at arm’s length. Finally on Mardi Gras, they convince her to go out for the night. Her friend Jix gives her a really cool fairy costume with color-changing holographic wings, and Duncan goes along as well, dressed in (what else?) a kilt.
I’ll back up a bit here and explain that from what I can gather, this book is third in a series. Samantha’s two best friends have already found their time-traveling spouses, and all three friends have traveled together a couple of times. So Samantha and Duncan have more or less had the first act of their relationship, and if you pick this book up you’ll be sitting in on acts two and three. I was more or less able to piece together past events, but it does get confusing from time to time. Anyway, Duncan has been hanging out in 2005, and everyone thinks he is trying to get back to his own time. Actually, he’s trying to go back even earlier, to tenth century Scotland. He traveled there before, and his actions caused the death of a young woman. He wants to go back again and make things right, but his ability to time travel is dependent on the presence of green crystals in a spring called Jacob’s Well. He checks the spring daily to see if he can travel again. On Mardi Gras night, he and Samantha end up together, and she goes with him to check the well. When he sees that the crystals are finally present, he says goodbye to Samantha and prepares to leave, but a freak lightening strike hits them both and sends them both back to Scotland in that earlier time.
A group of locals sees Duncan appear out of thin air and determines that he must be a demon. They are about to kill him when Samantha arrives on the scene. Pretending to be the real fairy queen, Brigid, she flips on the switch that activates her holographic wings. Awed and frightened, the villagers fall to the ground and worship her. Samantha quickly takes advantage of this, and continues to pose as the queen while Duncan plays the part of her consort. They live in this fashion for a better part of the month. The villagers bring Samantha gifts and make various requests of her. Duncan translates. Meanwhile, their purpose in the past becomes clearer. Duncan needs to save the woman he used to love, Talamar, from almost certain death. He thinks the way to do this is to see her married to Gwain, a powerful but cruel lord. Then other stuff happens:
- Talamar and Samantha/Queen Brigid becomes friends of sorts, and Talamar takes Samantha to a cave filled with crystals of various powers.
- Samantha finds a really cool looking egg and wonders what it could be.
- Samantha and Duncan start sleeping together, even though they ostensibly hate each other.
- Talamar reveals that she loves another man, Finn, who is one of Gwain’s soldiers.
- Brogan, the village priest who’s sort of a bad guy and sort of not, has a staff with green crystals in it.
Trust me, this is all much more interesting in bullet format. When you’re reading the book-length version, it gets pretty tortuous. Duncan spends much of the time pretending to love Talamar so he can keep Samantha at an arm’s length, even though he really loves her. Samantha doesn’t want to admit that she loves Duncan too, because she thinks he really loves Talamar. In order to make sure he keeps loving Talamar, she acts as bitchy as humanly possible. Meanwhile, she treats everyone like crap so she can appear “queenly.” This charade continues through almost the entire book, and reminded me of nothing so much as C3PO and the Ewoks (although, to be fair, C3PO was actually nice).
Maybe some of this would have been more interesting had either of the main characters been likable. But Samantha consistently comes across as petulant, childish, and rude. Why anyone would fall in love with her is completely beyond me. I know it can be tough to find the happy medium between complete bitch and hopeless doormat, but unfortunately the author erred on the “bitch” side this time. Duncan, unfortunately, is no better. He lies all the time for no good reason, and his goals in the past don’t even make sense. For some time he continues to think that Talamar would be better off married to the cruel, abusive Gwain than she would be dead. For the life of me, I couldn’t see why he didn’t look for a third option. Samantha, for all her self-absorption, is the only one pushing for some kind of happy ending for Talamar.
There are other problems with this book as well. First of all, much is left unexplained. For example, when Talamar takes Samantha to the cave full of crystals, she points out their various powers, and it becomes clear that Talamar has had a previous visit from the fairy queen. But the fairy queen in question wasn’t Samantha, and we never do find out what really happened. Perhaps this information was included in the other books, but if so, the reader really should have been clued in. The ending is also problematic. The climactic scenes in Scotland are kind of fun, even though they drag on for far too long. But everything is wrapped up in ways that are too convenient to be believable. There is an unexplained illness, for example, and the bad guys seem to wait around forever to try to kill the good people, just so they can make extra-sure the good guys show up and stop them.
All and all, this is pretty much a bust. If you’re looking for a time travel/Scotttish fix, I’d look elsewhere – or patiently wait for the new Outlander book.