Book reviews à la bookworm...The good, the bad, and everything in between.
The sequel to The Pride of Lions whisks us back into war-torn Scotland of 1745-46, for us to once again join one of the leaders of the second Jacobite rebellion ('The Forty-Five or Bliadhna Theàrlaich Charles' year in Gaelic), Alexander Cameron, and his English wife, Catherine, in their fight for Scottish freedom, their lives, and their love.
We saw them fall hopelessly and helplessly in love in the first book, so the author was now free to more fully delve into the background story, the history of the final rebellion. The story begins just a few days after the first book ended, in Blackpool, where Alex had sent Catherine to be safe from the upcoming war, then proceeds with intertwining scenes of rural (and still peaceful) Derbyshire, England and the battles both on and off the field in Scotland. Until the Scots (oh, ye, foolish, foolish Bonnie Prince Charlie), cross the river Esk (in the middle of winter, might I add, and march into England.
And there's only one person in England whom Alexander Cameron wants to see.
The reunion is hot, sweaty, rapturous, tumultuous...and bittersweet when Catherine is once again left behind, only to follow her husband (with good reason!) as the Jacobite army retreats (still in the middle of winter!) back to Scotland.
And it's in Scotland that this story comes to a close on April 16, 1746, on the barren, windswept, gore-filled field of Culloden...and to a second close, a little happier one, at dawn on a field near Achnacarry Castle in Lochaber.
This book is much more historically oriented, yet the detailed descriptions of the politics of the time, military tactics, battles, and troop movements, don't slow the pace, on the contrary in fact, and offer an even more realistic background to the touching love story between Alex and Catherine.
There is enough of their "interaction" to satisfy our curiosity, and the true facts of the history unraveling around them add a touch of truth to the fictitious romance, the constant threat of danger keeping the reader at the edge of the seat, hoping against hope sometimes, that these two truly star-crossed lovers might actually get to have their much deserved HEA.
The narrative of the rebellion ends with the horrific battle on the plain of Culloden Moor and its gruesome aftermath (having seen Culloden the reading experience was all the more chilling for me), yet Ms. Canham chose not to start with the battle itself, but to bring goosebumps on the skin and chills down the (at least this one) reader's spine through Catherine's ears as she listens to the distant rumblings of the cannons and then...
She ran to the front door and flung it open, straining now to hear and identify the cause of yet another shocking sound: the sound of absolute, deathly silence. (p. 480)
And at this (eighth read of this story) that this reader lost it. I've seen Culloden three times already and every single time I'm amazed by the fact that even though the road passes just alongside the battlefield, the visitor can hear only the wind sweeping across the plain, billowing in the grass. That sentence perfectly describes that feeling of isolation and silence I experience everytime I stand there at Culloden.
In the next paragraph, the reader is thrust straight in the middle of the battle without having been given a moment to brace, to prepare for the pointless, tragic, wastefull loss of life and humanity on that moor. The reader is in the thick of it alongside Alexander Cameron, as he charges with his clansmen, as he plunges in the middle of the scarlet-clad soldiers, as he slashes his broadsword, roars the cath-ghairm of his clan...
And when it ends the reader accompanies Catherine and Deirdre onto that same field, as they stumble over the dead and dying, make their way between torn limbs and dead horses, in their desperate search for their husbands.
And we're once more whisked over the Highlands into Lochaber, walking alongside the vanquished Camerons, alongside Gentle Donald on his stretched, and Alexander enduring the fever brought forth by his wounds, share his desperation, his anguish, his need to see Catherine, to let her take the pain away. And knowing the heartbreak that awaits him at home.
I thought after putting the book down and indulging in one last, cathartic bout of crying that was a combined result of the emotions this story evokes and the Pearl Harbor soundtrack that seems to fit so well, I'd be back to normal. Not yet, so you'll have to forgive this rather strange review. Typing and trying to read the screen is tough though a film of tears.
Anyway, as mentioned before, the last battle on the British soil was just the first climax of this novel which ends with the final confrontation that's been building since the first book—the fateful night in which Alex won Catherine in a duel.
The epilogue is bitter-sweet, so many lives and so much love lost, yet the glimmer of hope is there, a steady guiding light on the horizon.
This is a truly beautiful and amazing story.