by Marsha Canham, historical (2001)
Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-23522-7
Buckle on your seat belts, people. Marsha Canham's long overdue followup to her Scots duo The Pride Of Lions and The Blood Of Roses, Midnight Honor has all the graphic wartime violence and emotional turbulence one would associate with war to sate your appetites. It also has a strong heroine in Colonel Anne (or Wild Ruadh Annie as she is known to those who love her) and two, er, nice men who love her. One will get to keep her, and one will - I can't finish this sentence, it'll spoil the story, but heck, I'll just say Midnight Honor is one satisfying read.
The story in Midnight Honor spans from a year before the battle of Culloden to its aftermaths. It tells the story of Wild Ruadh Annie, married to Angus Moy (a cheftain whom she perceives as a traitor to her people) and who will lead her people into war beside Captain John MacGillivray who is also in love with her. Angus, however, is playing a precarious game of spies and lies, and soon he and Annie have to make some difficult decisions about life, war, and their people.
Ms Canham proves that she is among the cream of the crop when it comes to action scenes. Really - she doesn't play at being merciful: from page one, I am dragged screaming and kicking into the story, thanks to graphic and heartrending description of the aftermaths of Culloden. Courage, bravery, and the price of sacrifice and honor of the Jacobites are hailed, saluted, and eulogized in a moving tribute. And there is no better heroine that Anne, a woman who is actually out of her depths but rallies her strength for the sake of her people. She isn't perfect - she is weak at times too, but it makes her more human for it.
However, Angus and John are sketchy at best in character compared to Anne. In this way, Midnight Honor is more one woman's story than a romance. Angus seems a peripheral figure in most of Anne's life, and I confess I am hoping the dashing, courageous John MacGillivray will steal Anne away from Angus. Why shouldn't he? In a way, he is there in Anne's life when she needs someone.
It is war, and while some readers may be squeamish about the possibility of adultery (no, there isn't - John never has a chance), I am disappointed that there is no adultery. Yes, I am twisted, I know, but thing is, I am hoping for some depths in the relationships between Angus, Anne, and John amidst the political happenings in this story. But the author won't sully her characters with human flaws. Anne is honored to love and cherish Angus, and he her. Bye bye John, you poor thing. I can't help wishing if the author has given John more of a chance, there may be some emotional anchor I can sink myself into in Midnight Honor.
There's my main complain about this story. While I am moved into tears for the Jacobites' ultimate sacrifice for their ideology, I don't really have any anchor to base my catharsis upon. Anne? Possibly. But with her men remaining shadowy figures in this story - sometimes even interchangeable - her emotional development and soul-searching don't come to life as they should have.
Then the author paints the British in such a monotonously evil light that I still scratch my head, wondering how such a singularly rapist, murderous, indisciplined, gambling-mad, barbaric pig army can win our own Scottish superheroes. I get this feeling that the Scots' own hubris and underestimation of the British are as much to blame for their defeat as anything else. I would have preferred a story where the enemy isn't portrayed as such caricatures of evil. I know, this is a pro-Jacobite story, but the use of caricatures undermine the credibility of this story. It could have been grand and tragic, but sometimes Midnight Honor feels like a Loony Tunes cartoon where this time Wild E Coyote catches the Road Runner.
Whatever its faults, however, Midnight Honor is a sweeping, moving saga of wartime drama. It succeeds in engaging my emotions and making me invest my own personal feelings into the story. Go, Anne, give 'em your worst! What a woman. And those two guys aren't too bad either. Midnight Honor is definitely one of the better books to cross my path recently.
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