Intersections between the present and the past, romance and just a touch of the otherworldly, and, of course, plenty of dark secrets. These are the key ingredients of the sort of books that grabbed my attention all through high school and college, and Legacy has them in spades. I don’t know how I managed to miss this book the first time it was released, but I’m thrilled that it’s been reissued by Sourcebooks’ Casablanca Classics line. If you’re looking for a romance with a gothic feel, definitely pick this one up.
The book opens in Scotland as Mairi Maxwell of Shiels awaits the arrival of her former lover, King Edward I of England, at Traquair in 1298. He plans to take Scotland’s Stone of Destiny back with his conquering army to England, but Mairi has other ideas in mind. Exactly what those ideas are will lie at the center of a mystery that reaches down into the modern-day setting of the main story.
That portion of the book centers on Christina Murray, a scholar of Scottish history. She has received an invitation to Traquair House and having never seen the place, comes out of curiosity. The home’s elderly and frail owner dies suddenly upon Christina’s arrival and Christina is shocked to learn that she has inherited Traquair House. She also receives a more pleasant surprise in the form of meeting neighbor Ian Douglas. Not only is Ian a great source of knowledge about Traquair House and Scottish history in general, but he is also mature, intelligent, and charming.
Though things begin a little slowly and parts of the story seem improbable (i.e. It is mentioned near the beginning that Christina has had 5 years of coursework and 12 years of teaching at Boston College, but is only now just getting ready to start her dissertation?), the romance between Christina and Ian keeps building in intensity. It also becomes apparent that Christina and Ian’s story is not simply that of a 20th century couple falling in love. Ancient family secrets are driving events around them, and Christina comes to believe there is a curse that must be lifted or else her future will be threatened.
The manner in which the curse’s history and the knowledge of what must be done to lift it is handled wonderfully. Pieces of Mairi’s life, as well as those of other ancestors of Ian and Christina, are woven throughout the story, giving readers a gradual picture not only of the curse that lies over the descendants of Mairi Maxwell, but also of Scotland itself. We see events from Edward I’s war with Scotland as well as Flodden Field in the 16th century and the destruction of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746, and all of these events tie back in various ways to the curse wrongfully laid upon Mairi and her family line. Since I enjoy these types of plots, I’ve read many stories that weave past and present together, but few that make me care so deeply for the characters as this one. Christina and Ian are likeable and I did enjoy their romance, but some of the truly poignant and wrenching scenes set in earlier times were what really gave this book its hauntingly beautiful quality.
Getting back to Christina and Ian, I do like them. They are older than most romance leads (Christina is 37 and Ian a couple years younger), and they actually act their age and behave in ways that make me think of real adults in the 1990s. Since so much of this book is quite otherworldly, having leads that I can connect to does much to draw me into the story. The only issue I had with their part of the story really had to do with the pacing of their relationship. One minute they’re friendly acquaintances, then they suddenly can’t keep their hands off each other, and then the relationship starts to develop painfully slowly again. Needless to say, that unevenness can be a little disconcerting.
With a quiet pace that somehow showed the darkness of the secrets surrounding Christina’s family line much more vividly, Legacy is one of those books that will linger in your thoughts for a while after reading it. Jeannette Baker is a wonderful storyteller and this is book that certainly needed to be back in print. If you enjoy gothic romance, definitely give this one a try.