The Wild Rose of Kilgannon
by Kathleen Givens
(Dell , $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-440-23568-5
Few books keep me up much past Friends, never mind midnight. But 3:30 a.m.?

But that's what happened when I picked up Kathleen Givens' The Wild Rose of Kilgannon, the concluding novel in her two-book series. I stumbled off to bed at 3:45 a.m., tired but happy, for it has been a long while since I read an historical romance that snared my interest and tangled my emotions. What I said in my review of Givens' first novel Kilgannon goes for her follow-up book too -- it's not your run-of-the-mill historical romance, and it definitely takes liberties with the genre. But it's a book that you don't want to miss if you love Scottish romances, believable characters, and excellent writing.

This novel opens where Kilgannon left off. It's October 1715 and Mary Lowell is left behind at Castle Kilgannon in Scotland, angry that her husband, Alex MacGannon, has forsaken his family to fight for a cause he doesn't even believe in -- that is, fighting with the Jacobites to bring the exiled James Stuart to the English throne.

Mary does her best to keep busy around the castle, but she knows that the Jacobites are doomed. Slowly, news about the battles begins to trickle back to Kilgannon, and the stories aren't good. The battles are brutal and the English are well armed. Moreover, Alex has gone into battle against a man who once loved Mary, Robert Campbell. There is no great affection between these two men, and Mary worries what will become of Alex should he fall into Robert's hands. As war-weary men begin to trickle back to Kilgannon, Mary hopes that her hot-headed husband will soon be among them, but deep down, she knows he won't be back till every Kilgannon warrior is returned safely home.

Then she gets the news that Alex has been captured by none other than Robert Campbell. Her worst fears turn to despair when she discovers that Alex let himself be captured in order to save his kinsmen. Moreover, Alex's evil brother Malcolm has been further betraying his brother to the English.

Though the reader is biting her nails through all this, she knows that of course Alexander MacGannon would put his life before others. If ever there was a Scottish hero that personified bravery and loyalty, it's the tenth Earl of Kilgannon.

Good news follows, however, when Mary learns that Alex is alive and will be brought to Kilgannon for one last night with his family and people. Then he will be taken to Edinburgh and tried as a traitor against the English crown.

Their night together is awkward, and Mary is bewildered as to why Alex is going with Robert so willingly. She knows they could escape Kilgannon, but no -- Alex has given his word to Robert. One night at Kilgannon, and he'll go peacefully to prison -- and to a most certain trial and ghastly execution. Alex is a man of his word, and although his principles cost him dearly short-term, they end up paying off handsomely in the end.

As I've said several times, Givens has written a book that isn't your traditional romance. Mary and Alex spend more time apart than together, but through it all, there's a palpable sense of their love for each other. At the end of their brief intervals together, I found myself reaching for Kleenex frequently.

This novel, like Givens' first, is written in first-person; that is, we get the story through Mary's eyes. I really liked this, because Mary is such a strong, forceful character with definite opinions about everything. When I started Kilgannon, I really didn't like Mary very much because she seemed so shallow and self-absorbed. But there's none of that simpering young girl left in this brave woman desperate to save her husband. In fact, I would say I fell in love with Alex MacGannon in the first book, but my heart belonged to Mary in this one.

I think The Wild Rose of Kilgannon would be a better read for you if you read Kilgannon first. You'll miss a lot in this book without the background story. And though Dell says this is the concluding novel of the series, I wonder. It seemed at the end there could be more in store for these incredible characters.

Bravo, Kathleen Givens!

--Diana Burrell

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