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Highland Enchantment
by Lois Greiman
(Avon, $5.99 PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80366-6
Throughout my childhood, I was intrigued by the idea of garden mazes. I imagined myself surrounded by six foot hedgerows following one path after another, turning down what looked like the right path only to confront dead ends until eventually I worked my way free and regained my freedom. I saw it as a test of wits and knew that if given the chance, I would emerge the victor. Well, after reading Lois German's Highland Enchantment let's just say the bloom is off the rose and I am no longer certain that intellect alone is the key to a maze.

Highland Enchantment is Greiman's latest installment in her Highland Brides series that follows three cousins, Shona, Rachel and Sara, as they battle Warwick, an evil wizard, for possession of the brooch "Dragonheart."

I think.

Never having read the previous two books, I found myself constantly turning back the pages to find passages that I thought I had missed, but that in fact were unfortunately not included in the novel.

On a stormy night at Burn Creag Castle, Scotland in 1509, the three young cousins steal the dragon brooch from Liam, the Irish orphan boy taken in by Rachel's father, Laird Leith, to test its "magical powers." Each girl makes a wish on the brooch and Rachel wishes to follow in her mother's footsteps to become a great healer.

Twelve years later, Rachel's wish has come true and she is a renowned healer in Scotland traveling on a mysterious mission when she comes across Liam at a village fair in England. Lucky for him, she arrives just in time to save the traveling entertainer from a trouncing by the enraged male relatives of a village woman he showed a little too much appreciation for during his performance. Reluctantly, Rachel allows him to accompany her until he has recovered from his injuries. Rather than suffer through the temptation of traveling with her, Liam quickly decides to continue his travels alone, but changes his mind during their pitstop beside a stream. There, Rachel finds "Dragonheart." Despite Liam's urgings for her to return the mystical jewel to the water because it is bad luck, she inexplicably tucks it inside her bodice.

And so the odyssey begins. Along the way, the two go over a waterfall, join a traveling band of gypsies, run into a mystical creature and perfect the art of driving each other (and the reader) crazy. Both Liam and Rachel have loved each other since childhood. But the differences in their station puts a major kink in Liam's willingness to act on his feelings, despite the many and varied ways Rachel repeatedly devises to attract his attention and overwhelm his guilty conscience and reluctant honor.

Liam says and does everything he can to encourage Rachel's belief that he is a shiftless entertainer with nothing more on his mind than robbery and indiscriminate sex. But, honor aside, why would you want the woman you loved to think that your higher self was nonexistent?

And Rachel? If you were willing to entertain for even a nanosecond that the man you loved from childhood had committed acts that you found abhorrent or at least morally deficient, is that love or stupidity? Her inner conflict to reconcile her love and sexual desire for him, despite his constant rejection (naturally, only after he got both of them all sweaty and partially undressed) seemed just plan dumb. And made her really bitchy to boot.

Into every romance there must come a period of self-doubt for the hero and heroine, especially after each has acknowledged that he/she has feelings for the other and taken steps to encourage a response in the other. But the on-again, off-again emotions raging through Highland Enchantment, rather than inspiring sympathy for Rachel and Liam, after awhile became annoying in the extreme. Eventually, I began to wonder what one saw in the other. And obviously, our hero and heroine find it equally as bothersome because as the story progresses, their behavior toward one another deteriorates to the point where I would have cheered if one or both of them stood up and said, "okay, that's it. I give up."

Unfortunately, neither does, and the novel continues to a climactic yet incomprehensible end. If I thought I was lost during the beginning and middle of the book, I definitely could not decipher the twists and turns that made up the novel's finale.

Highland Enchantment may work for those who have read the series' previous installments and can navigate the storyline. But, for a newcomer, the plot and the characters sometimess amount to an impenetrable mishmash.

--Walaika Haskins

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