|With On a Highland Shore, Kathleen Givens begins a new
series about three siblings and their adventures in thirteenth
century Scotland. It is a prequel of sorts to her Kilgannon novels,
set five hundred years later. The latter derive their names from the
church built by the main characters of this one.
When Margaret MacDonald discovers her betrothed in bed with her
friend, she demands the end to their long-standing engagement. Since
Lachlan is cousin to Alexander III of Scotland, only the King can
make such a decision. Margaret's request isn't even considered. Her
presence at court nevertheless saves her life, even if it doesn't
spare her yet another tragedy.
For, while she is away with her older
brother and younger sister, Norse seamen attack her home, abduct one
brother and kill her remaining family and friends. Determined to
track down her missing relative, Margaret enlists the help of Gannon
MacMagnus, a half-Irish, half-Norse warrior who is an ally of the
Scots. They are attracted to each other, but have to contend against
further attacks as well as her court-sanctioned marriage, before they
can find happiness together.
Margaret and Gannon are endearing and captivating, and their story is
engrossing. Nevertheless, On a Highland Shore reads more like a
chronicle of social strife with a romance woven through than like a
love story set against the background of historical feuds. The two
don't meet until a third into the novel. Though well matched, they
could have managed just as well on their own.
To understand the complicated political networks and alliances that
threaten the uneasy peace between the Scots and the Norse requires
some knowledge of the period. Givens adroitly weaves information into
her narrative without droning endlessly. A note appended to the book
provides further details.
Given this eye for accuracy, Margaret's determination not to marry
her betrothed might come off as fanciful and anachronistic. Yet
Givens does an admirable job making it historically credible. For
one, women did have the right to choose (although less so, as someone
points out, in Norman-influenced territory). For another, in the eyes
of other characters, Margaret's behavior appears foolish, na´ve and
even threatening. Her successive failures highlight the constraints
placed on men and women as well as the resignation that must have
Givens is a talented writer, and her storytelling skills breathe life
and passion into long forgotten events. The narrative flows easily,
pulling the reader along with it. But a couple of things jarred. I
eventually got used to the Scottish-sounding dialect the characters
speak, but it did irritate me. If this is a bid for authenticity, it
isn't completely convincing: modern Scots must be as different from
that spoken in the thirteenth century as today's English is from its
medieval counterpart. Similarly, paranormal elements, such as
Gannon's psychic sense and Margaret's prophetic seer, were not only
unnecessary but also distracting and confusing in a novel with
realistic overtones. Lastly, the final action sequence is excessive
and even inconsistent with what goes before.
The PG-13 rating is more for violence than sexuality. The novel is
rarely graphic (I can think of several Disney films which are more
gruesome), but it doesn't deny the brutality of the Norsemen's raids.
No one is spared, not even readers' favorites. If you have a hard
time seeing horrible things happen to likeable characters, give this
one a miss. On the other hand, if you prefer rich story lines,
textured narratives, stirring romance and grounded explorations of
the complexities of the past, On a Highland Shore may be just up your alley.