Beyond the Highland Mist
by Karen Marie Moning
(Dell, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-440-23480-8
***
This is one of those books that leaves a reviewer torn. On one hand you've got an original tale with entertaining characters who go about their business without an overabundance of the cliches that populate many a romance. On the other hand, there is a fundamental flaw in the proceedings that becomes more and more obvious as the story progresses, eventually becoming a rock that threatens to sink the whole shebang. In the end it becomes an issue of how forgiving the reader is willing to be, based on her connection with the characters. Like love itself, the willingness to forgive flaws is directly proportionate to the affection one holds for that which is flawed.

Beyond the Highland Mist is a historical romance which relies heavily on both time travel and fantasy elements to drive the story. It begins in the realm of fantasy, with the Faerie Queen remarking on the unearthly sexual prowess of a mortal known as the Hawk. In a fit of jealously, the Faerie King instructs his Fool to find a way to punish the human.

Sidheach James Lyon Douglas is Laird of Dalkeith-Upon-the-Sea and recently released from fifteen years of service to his King. He returns home somewhat of a legend, renowned for his perfect beauty and his ability to please a woman. His friend Grimm, in a moment of levity, wishes upon a star and ensures Hawk that one day he'll meet his match in a woman who hates beautiful men. That wish becomes a tool of retribution in the form of Adrienne de Simon.

Adrienne has based her hatred of beautiful men upon the actions of the vile ex-fiancé who turned her world upside…at least she thought it was upside down until she arrives in Scotland, circa 1513. Propelled from modern-day Seattle to the sixteen century, Adrienne lands in the arms of a brutal clan chieftain who insists she masquerade as his recently dead daughter and marry the Lord of Dalkeith. Before she can really figure out what's going on, Adrienne is married to Hawk by proxy and arrives at the picturesque highland home of her husband.

Almost immediately, Adrienne encounters a gorgeous blacksmith who goes by the name of Adam. Adam is actually the faerie Fool, who intends to use Adrienne in every way possible to further his court-ordered revenge against Hawk. Adam's bid for Adrienne's affections incenses Hawk who vows to fully possess the woman who has finally managed to capture his heart.

There is so much more that goes on within the pages of Beyond the Highland Mist that this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Someone begins trying to kill Adrienne, but this is a episode that is quickly forgotten in the escalating battle-of-wills between Adrienne, Hawk and Adam. In that battle, Adrienne all too often comes across as a pawn in a faerie vs. mortal pissing contest.

And therein lies the flaw. Adrienne's life, indeed, her entire outlook on the world, has been forever changed by the actions of a man who used her terribly by playing upon her weaknesses – her need for home, family, and security. Eberhard Darrow Garrett (the author has a penchant for unusual names) manipulated Adrienne into doing his bidding and in the process stole her freedom.

In one sense, Hawk is different from Eberhard only in that he dangles sex instead of security. True, he does genuinely love Adrienne, but in trying to prove that love he becomes as manipulative as his futuristic predecessor. The scene in which Hawk vows to break down the last of Adrienne's weakened defenses by "seeling" or blindfolding her as one would do while training an actual hawk is particularly illustrative of this emotional manipulation.

Odd for a romance novel, but I found myself wishing Adrienne would not give in to Hawk. His systematic weakening of Adrienne's resolve seems cruel at times. Oh, he gives lip service to her traumatic past, but that never stops him from charging full speed ahead in order to achieve HIS desire. He must possess her. She must yield. He has given her heart now she must give hers. Yes he's a charismatic fellow, so one can understand why Adrienne eventually welcomes his continual assault. But underneath it all he's no different from the fiancé who left Adrienne fearing for her life and happy to seek refuge in the past. Hawk method of domination is just a little prettier.

Where Beyond the Highland Mist does distinguish itself is in its rather forbidding depictions of Faerie. This is not a place you'd picture Tinkerbell. The inhabitants as a whole seem rather cantankerous. But they are vivid, as are most of the characters author Karen Moning has seen fit to drop into the mix.

--Ann McGuire


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