The Heather Moon
Susan King’s newest release, The Heather Moon, isn’t one of those books that grabs you from the first page. It has great characters, a thoughtful conflict, and a well-researched setting – but it takes a while for all of these elements to come together and form a harmonious whole. Fortunately, it’s worth the wait.
Tamsin Armstrong is a brave, stubborn woman. Half Scots and half Gypsy, she is not quite comfortable in either world. She enjoys the wandering life and comfortable clothing of her Gypsy relatives, but she finds some of their customs too restrictive. Most of the time she lives with her Scottish father, Archie Armstrong, but many Scots scorn her because of her Gypsy heritage. To make matters worse, she was born with a deformed hand. Consequently, many Gypsies feel she is bad luck, and many Scots think it’s a sign of witchcraft. Although Tamsin comes across as brash and independent, she secretly longs to be accepted and loved. But both Archie and her Gypsy grandfather have tried in vain to find her a husband.
When Tamsin and her father are caught by Jasper Musgrave during a border raid, her life is fated to change. Musgrave is English, but one of his associates is William Scott, the son of Archie’s best friend Allan Scott, who was hanged as a thief when William was a boy. Archie and Allan had always wanted their children to marry, but Allan was killed before a betrothal contract could be signed. Although William appears to be working with their English captor, Archie still feels he can trust the son of his friend. So when a chain of events places Tamsin in William’s custody, Archie agrees to let her go with him, hoping that his dreams of a match between the two will be realized.
William is actually part of a complicated plot. He is fiercely loyal to Scotland, but the English believe him to be out of favor with the Scottish court. King Henry VIII has a plot to kidnap the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, and Musgrave hopes to enlist William’s help. While William pretends to go along, he is secretly reporting to Mary of Guise, the infant queen’s mother.
However, political events fade into the background once William and Tamsin are together. The two are forced into a marriage of convenience, but they both consider the marriage to be more of a friendship which will eventually be dissolved. But when they spend more time together, they begin to wish that the marriage were a real one. Tamsin is amazed that William accepts her and finds her beautiful despite her deformity. William is enchanted by Tamsin and feels drawn to her by fate. But soon after they profess their love, political events again come to the forefront and William and Tamsin hold the fate of Scotland’s queen in their hands. They need to uncover the plot to kidnap her and secure her safety before they can make their marriage a real one.
The structure of this book is rather different, and it’s both a strength and a weakness. The first and last portions are heavy on the intrigue, but it’s almost completely missing from the middle, when Tamsin and William are falling in love and thinking about each other. This part of the book emphasizes the conflict between the two as they figure out how to make their marriage a real one. In some ways it’s the most interesting part of the book, but it also seems odd that the characters aren’t worrying more about the political situation. I almost forgot about it, and it felt like they did too.
On the plus side, this is one of the most thoughtful, interesting marriage of convenience plots I’ve ever seen. Often couples seem to rush into marriages of convenience with little thought and less love. Tamsin and William basically marry to please other people, but each secretly wants the match, and they both spend a lot of time considering how to conduct themselves honorably. The thought they put into their commitment is rare and touching. Tamsin is particularly interesting. She’s bold, yet very vulnerable and insecure about her deformity and her heritage. There is an affecting passage in which William assures her that every part of her is beautiful; it’s sensitively written, and William comes across as a true hero.
The setting is also top notch. Medieval history is well-integrated into the story; it’s a nice backdrop for the romance but it isn’t overpowering. And the Scottish flavor is very much in evidence. Has anyone else been reading books that profess to have a Scottish setting but might as well be set in London or Boston? Thankfully this is not one of those. Many aspects of Gypsy life are also presented. For some reason, I have read a lot of books with Gypsy characters lately, and my first thought was that this book could not possibly have anything new to say. I’m glad to admit I was wrong – I learned all kinds of things I didn’t know. It’s nice to see an author take the time to really research the history and present it in an interesting and entertaining way.
The Heather Moon is definitely worth reading. The conflict, characters and setting really set this book apart from the crowd. It’s appeal is broad – medieval fans, Scottish fans, and history buffs will all find something to like here.