Stealing Sophie

To Wed A Highland Bride
by Sarah Gabriel
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 978-0006-123496-5
When you think “Celtic,” often fairies and magic come to mind. To Wed a Highland Bride brings all that to light and begins a series about a family whose lives are intertwined with the fairy world.

James MacCarren and his siblings have just discovered that their grandmother left them their inheritance with strings attached. Each of them must do a task and then marry someone with fairy blood. Grandmother was deeply entrenched in fairy lore and was in fact writing a book. James’s task is to go their home in the Highlands and finish her manuscript. She hints that there is a fairy treasure to be found also.

Elspeth MacArthur is a rare type of woman. Her grandfather tells her that she is a daughter of a fairy princess and a mortal man. Said man, her father, lives with the fairies by choice. Her grandfather, on the other hand, returns to the fairy world every seven years to stay for a week in order to cavort with the queen of the fairies. He is under a spell, you see. He has been given Elspeth to raise, but on her 21st birthday, she will have to return to the fairies, unless she has married for true love and has found a lost fairy treasure.

James returns to the Struan estate, which happens to sit on land that is said to be the portal to the fairy world, to finish the book. He has little hope of finding treasure or a bride. In fact, he is contemplating selling the estate, despite it being the seat of his viscounts’ title. He meets Elspeth in the middle of a fierce storm as she is searching his gardens for a stone that her grandfather needs to visit the fairy world. They are thrown together alone because it is the time of the fairy riding, when the fairies leave the underworld. Legend has it that it is a dangerous time to be out and about because the fairies can lure humans into their keeping, to be forever lost. That is what happened to Elspeth’s father, according to her grandfather. All of James’ servants have left the estate due to fear and for some, respect for the power of the fairy legend.

They spend several days together, fighting each other and their attraction. They try to remain innocent but they do share a steamy kiss in the garden as they hide from the fairies. Or at least Elspeth believes that is what they are doing. James is skeptical, being a geologist and founded in scientific evidence. He is skeptical of the legends, the writings of his grandmother and of Elspeth, who assures him that she has been blessed with the sight at times, too. Just because she knows things she shouldn’t doesn’t really convince him.

The story progressess as they fall in love and search together for the fairy treasure. This has it all – fairies, banshees, kindly grandfathers, and meddling neighbors and relatives. James, who was raised by an aunt, is under pressure from her to marry a rather snotty lowlander who happens to be rich. The tale sets up the stories of the other siblings, Patrick, William and Fiona, while introducing the person threatening to gain from the will, a distant cousin whom they all hate.

The story is at times, a pure fantasy while at other times bogged down in geological gobble gook. The romance is sweet, yet has little depth. This is really a story about the fairy world. While I was entertained, there were times that the subplots were distracting. I didn’t find myself eager to pick up the story when I had to put it down, which is never a positive sign.

Overall, I enjoyed this pleasant tale, which is rich in vivid descriptions of the mystical glamour of the fairy world. Yet, To Wed A Highland Bride did not grab me or keep me riveted for long periods.

--Shirley Lyons

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