The Highlander
by Heather Grothaus
(Zebra, $5.99, PG)  ISBN  978-14201-0242-0
**
Sometimes when reviewing an author that is new to you, there is a desire to like the book and give the author the encouragement to keep writing. This is especially true when you like the setting (the Highlands), enjoy the bit of mystic thrown in (curses and communing with wild animals) and the hero is major alpha male. That is what I wanted when I picked up The Highlander and read the praise for Grothaus’ previous tales. Sadly, for me the story did not deliver.

Evelyn Godewin was running from a priory where she was mistreated, and also from an unwanted marriage. She was accompanying Minerva Buchanan back to her home in the Highlands, where Minerva had left the love of her life, Ronan MacKerrick. Theirs was a tragedy, where warring clans did not let them marry and Ronan ended up dead. Now Minerva was returning. She died on the way, near the tree where her Ronan had died. In the process of her dying, there were gray wolves that attacked. Evelyn first was saved by and then she provided the saving of a black wolf. Together they made it to Ronan’s old cabin and there they settle in for the winter to recuperate from their injuries. She named the wolf Alinor.

Conall MacKerrick is the chief of the Clan MacKerrick. But he feels himself a failure.  His town has suffered from a curse from Minerva Buchanan which will only be lifted when a Buchanan babe is born to rule over the clan MacKerrick. Conall has just lost his wife and daughter to childbirth and he has come to Ronan’s cabin to mourn and recuperate. What he finds is Evelyn.

The two come to an uneven peace when Evelyn realizes she is weak and needs to recover and Conall discovers that Evelyn is a Buchanan – a lie Evelyn tells him in order to protect herself. Little does she know that being a Buchanan is not something for Conall to fear but something of a godsend. Conall thinks he can seduce Eve and then get her to marry him, produce a child and end the curse. The complication about her not being a Buchanan is nothing compared to her fear of childbirth. Since her mother died trying to have her, Eve is determined to never leave a child carrying that burden.

They fall for each other but there is the complication of their backgrounds, their lies and the many people of both tribes who would not want their union to take place. Throw in a few mystical creatures who seem to threaten and some to protect, Eve’s love of animals that seem to take on human emotions and Conall’s continuing guilt about his relationship with his father and you have enough barriers to stand in the way of the most enchanting romance.

This is not an enchanting romance. Eve is an uneven hero, going from defeated lady to strong warrior in the blink of an eye. She is frightened and then over-emotional, throwing temper tantrums. Her relationship with the animals is just downright silly at times.  Conall is a strong hero but is confined by his lies of omission by refusing to tell Eve of the curse. He is thrilled when she is with child, only to discover that Eve is not at all happy. The tale is slow. I often struggled with picking it up and reading on. The author tries to make this a character study, but there just isn’t enough there to get me truly engaged. 

There are many side stories and at times, it feels like there were pieces that I should have known…maybe readers of her previous tales would know them. The feud and the reason for it, when fully revealed seemed unnecessary. The twists thrown in just didn’t equate any emotion. The characters were not well developed beyond Conall and Eve, so why would I care how they were affected all those years ago? This was a major disconnect for me and lessened greatly my enjoyment in the story. The sentimentality about the animals was less than a stellar moment for me. 

Grothaus has an interesting writing voice and at times, the romance drew me in. Then she would throw in the weird mystical aspects that just did not make a lot of sense and I would be lost.  The Highlander is one of those epic tales that as a reader I wanted to be bigger than life. Alas, it was not.   

--Shirley Lyons 


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