A little bird once told me, “When a couple meet and fall in love, that’s romance. When a married couple who are already in love persevere through thick and thin - well, that’s fiction.” I forget whether he was perched outside divorce court or a publishing house, but his comment is apt in either context.
Now, if only my feathered friend had winged by the literary agency, Midnight Honor might have found its true audience: historical fiction buffs who don’t mind some graphic sex scenes enlivening an excellent read. For readers seeking romance, however, Marsha Canham’s new novel is a disappointing experience.
Lady Anne is a former wild child of the Highlands, grown to sophisticated maturity under the tutelage of Lord Angus Moy, her chic, European-educated husband. Aside from occasional bouts of social awkwardness in the company of her husband’s high-flying friends, Anne’s first four years of marriage have passed in loving bliss.
Marital discord arrives in the form of Bonnie Prince Charlie. As the chief of Clan Chattan, Angus has allied with the English for the coming fight, thereby alienating his entire clan - including Anne, whose entire family sides with the Prince. Divided by her loyalties, she is helpless to change her husband’s mind, though he can offer her no good reason for his sudden, inexplicable Anglomania.
However, Angus has promised her that he will take the most passive of roles in supporting the English. In turn, when clan members suggest to Anne that she is the only person capable of rallying sufficient troops for the prince’s army, she demurs because it would mean challenging her husband’s authority as chief. However, an overheard conversation reveals that Angus’s interests in the English cause are far more active and mercenary than he has led Anne to believe. Numbed by his betrayal, she declares for the Prince and sets off through the countryside to gather manpower for the Jacobite cause.
As Angus courts English favor in Edinburgh, “Colonel Anne” swiftly becomes the rallying point for an entire army of rebels. Their hearts may ache for each other, but their politics are irreconcilable. Meanwhile, Anne’s old flame and comrade-in-arms, the dashing and dangerous John MacGillivray, promises to ease the memories of the true love whom politics have denied her…
The post-marriage plot is not new to the romance novel: husband returns from dead, reformed; husband discovers charms of post-makeover wife (spiritual or physical, take your pick); husband and wife meet years after divorce only to rediscover love. However, the common thread here is discovery, because romance novels are, by their nature, about the process of finding and falling in love.
Midnight Honor is not about falling in love. The hero and heroine are already fully cognizant of their love for each other when the book opens, despite a couple of misleading hints to the contrary. I suspect that these hints were a late addition to make the book appear like a romance novel - to create, as it were, that old familiar tension borne of waiting for characters to realize their true feelings. The ploy falls flat when Angus and Anne acknowledge their love and move on to the book’s real concern: politics.
Dandy, except that romance is the conflict of the personal, not the political. Of course, political conflict can create personal problems. Perhaps if Ms. Canham had chosen to nurse Anne’s hurt over her husband’s betrayal, we would have waited, breath bated, for their inevitable reconciliation (how, oh how?). Or if Angus, upon misinterpreting that touching scene between Anne and John, had removed her forcibly from the rebel camp, throwing her into jail with other Jacobites (oh! the torments of star-crossed love!). But Ms. Canham has too much respect for the integrity of her story. Anne quickly forgives her husband, and Angus trusts his wife. Their love remains unshakable, and we move on to the true crux of the story: what happens to them, not between them.
Goodbye, sexual tension and emotional suspense; hello, historical fiction! Gentle reader, make no mistake: Midnight Honor is an excellent piece of romantic historical fiction. It just isn’t romance.