Elizabeth Mayne’s teaching background shines through in her use of historical accuracy in this tale of 16th Century Ireland. The sights, scents, sounds, and mysticism surrounding the green isle are all used here to good effect, but the author goes a bit overboard. This other-worldly quality tends to overwhelm the love story between Hugh O’Neill and Morgana Fitzgerald.
The opening of this novel is obviously meant to be very dramatic and is filled with Irish mysticism that almost reads as liturgy. This reviewer, however, found the opening almost too daunting, what with the sounds of banshees, redcoats ready to rape, the keening sound of a river overflowing its banks, and the ghostly reminiscence of a clan leader Sir Hugh is supposed to take after.
Lady Morgana is on the run from the British because her father is wanted for treason by Queen Elizabeth; he is in France, home of his Norman ancestors, trying to win back the crown for Ireland. Sir Hugh is after the redcoat who killed his grandfather, “the O’Neill.” Sir Hugh and his Lady meet as he helps her escape the British. He is impressed by her strength and fighting skill. She is impressed that he doesn’t dismiss her as a wanton because she was nearly raped.
Their attraction is instant and obvious. Their first night together, after a few drinks, they surrender to their lust and make passionate love. Though he plans to make her his mistress, he soon discovers she is a lady. Worse, he mistakenly believes he has corrupted a novitiate.
More drama ensues. She must get away from her new-found love to take her younger brother out of hiding and spirit him away to safety in France. She cannot reveal this, however, and nearly kills herself trying to escape (or is she trying to kill herself?). Oh yeah, I almost forgot. In the midst of all this excitement, Morgana hears the ghost of her grandmother, who she thinks was killed by Hugh’s ancestors. The ghostly grandma may be trying to lure Morgana to her death in order to “save her” from Hugh’s clan.
Her hero, however, saves her from near certain death and promises to help her get to her destination without knowing why she needs to get there so fast. And, just to spice things up a bit more, Morgana just might be a witch. After all, she put several of Hugh’s men to sleep with a dusting of herbs on her journey to get her brother.
This is just a synopsis of the first part of the book. Later, we meet a famous female pirate, who happens to be Morgana’s sister-in-law (did I mention she was a widow?), Morgana’s opportunistic father, a Templar Knight who might or might not be real, a young witch who wants the Templar Knight to conjure her up a familiar, etc. Did I mention the eight-year-old witch is supposed to be betrothed to Hugh? Did I mention Morgana doesn’t find this out until the day she agrees to marry Hugh?
There is quite a bit of book crammed into 346 pages. I believe that is the problem here. Rarely do I believe Harlequin Historicals are too short, but in this case, I do. This book really does have the feel of an epic squeezed into the stringent HH format.
Morgana and Hugh are interesting lead characters. Both are strong, stubborn, and complex. The secondary characters, including Morgana’s brothers (did I mention there is more than one?), are given some real meat in the story, as is the young witch, known as “the Mulvaine.” By the way, did I mention that one annoying aspect of this book is that there are so many titles such as “the Mulvaine” and “the O’Neill” that it was hard to figure out who was who and what was what?
For all the problems I did have, I found this to be a fairly diverting read. At times when it seems the author will veer in one direction, she veers into another, quite plausibly. In one scene it seemed as though a very cliched plot device would follow. I give credit to the author that it did not.
I do believe that had this author had some room to spin this yarn, it would have been more effective and less rushed. I would have liked more time to see Morgana’s opportunistic father in action. I would have liked to have seen more of Morgana’s interaction with her brothers.
I also would definitely have liked to have seen more “foreplay” in the relationship between Hugh and Morgana. Call me old-fashioned, but sleeping together on the first night doesn’t allow enough sexual tension to build up between a hero and heroine. And the author veers a bit too close to silly sex here with references to the “plump mound of Venus,” among others.
Author Elizabeth Mayne’s imagination is a very fertile place, and she weaves history in this story seamlessly, so that an intricate pattern is created. However, like a queen-sized quilt trying to fit a king-sized bed, her story just doesn’t quite fit.
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