Sunday, November 6, 2011

Highland Storms, by Christina Courtenay

In the follow up to her novel Trade Winds, Christina Courtenay continues the story of the Kinross family, this time moving her characters from Sweden to their native homeland, the Scottish Highlands. Brice Kinross, son of Killian and Jess, the protagonists in Trade Winds, is bequeathed Rosyth House, the Kinross ancestral home, by his father as a consequence of the Jacobite uprising in 1745.  Living in Sweden with his family, Brice is betrayed in love by his brother and his brother's new wife, the girl he himself intended to marry. When his father suspects that things are not all what they seem at Rosyth, he encourages Brice to go to Scotland, take up the reins of his inheritance and put things to rights. With an eye toward a new beginning, he leaves Sweden and heads "home."

Marsaili Buchanan, Brice's deceased uncle's illegitimate daughter (more simply, his second cousin) acts as housekeeper at Rosyth. Instilled there by Brice's aunt and looked after by her half-sisters, Marsaili continuously butts heads with the estate manager, Colin Seton. He wants Marsaili for a wife, but she refuses him repeatedly. Seton is not what he appears to be, and only his son, Iain knows exactly what he's up to. However, Iain's loyalties are tested repeatedly as he loves Marsaili's half sister. When Brice shows up at Rosyth House and declares himself Laird, he begins to slowly win over his tenants by deed as well as character. At the same time, he makes some very powerful enemies. Faced with the ultimate threat to his plan, Seton begins to plot revenge and this revenge is what keeps the book moving through the final few pages.

On a personal level, Brice must overcome his reluctance to trust in love when he finds himself attracted to his beautiful cousin.  For her part, Marsaili has to make sure Brice's intentions are honorable before she reciprocates those feelings,  as she has a fear of becoming like her mother, a wanton who finally settled into marriage only to allow her husband to physically abuse her. But before this can happen, fate intervenes and puts them both into abject danger.

Set against the backdrop of the aftermath of Culloden and the dismantling of the clan system in the Highlands, Highland Storms evokes all the hardship and desolation faced and felt by the once proud inhabitants of that part of Scotland. Ms. Courtenay writes an engaging and fast moving story. The only problem I have with it is that a good deal of the dialogue and some of the action (for example, the characters, including the women, seem to like to punch each other in the arms a good deal to signify good humor) seemed a bit too contemporary for a novel set in the mid 18th century. It was a bit jarring and somewhat difficult to get past in spots, but I tried my best to put that aside, and once I did, it was easy to get lost in Brice and Marsaili's love story.  Just out now from Choc Lit publishers, Highland Storms is a fast moving, engaging, love trumps all tale definitely worth a read.