by Kathleen Givens, historical (2007)
Pocket, $7.50, ISBN 978-1-4165-0990-2
After some lukewarm attempts at more conventional Highland romances, Kathleen Givens returns to her Kilgannon roots with On A Highland Shore. This book is described as "an epic saga", which if you ask me is an indirect way of warning readers that this story has a high body count, violence (including rape - but not of our heroine, of course), and a romance patterned in a way that is not typical of romance novels (separations, et cetera). If you are expecting a typical Highland laird and tomboy romance here, I hope you are able to adjust your expectations accordingly.
Having said that, I don't find this story particularly original even a little. This is a story full of standard romance novel tropes despite its self-proclaimed historical fiction aspirations.
Set in 1263, this story spans quite a considerable time indeed as it details the early young adult years of Margaret MacDonald to the time she meets, loves, loses, and regains the hero Gannon MacMagnus. There are plenty of drama here courtesy of a Viking fellow who imagines himself to be the bloodthirsty leader who will return his people to their bloodthirsty cruel glory by embarking on a bloody rampage across the shores of Scotland. If you want to know more, you will, of course, have to read the book yourself because I don't want to spoil things too much for anyone. Be assured though that there are plenty of violence, gore, and high-strung emotions running all over the pages.
On A Highland Shore is an entertaining read despite its painfully slow and repetitious first quarter. The first quarter or so, detailing Margaret's life leading up to her broken engagement to a cheating sweetheart, is a tedious read, especially when she discovers the beau in the act, because every scene in every subsequent chapter drives home the same message repeatedly - that Margaret is heartbroken and she will not forgive, much less marry the man now. Call me heartless but it is only after her family is butchered by Vikings that the story picks up considerably.
Even so, I have to laugh at some of the more obviously contrived aspects of the story. The author doesn't hesitate to have generally nameless and therefore unimportant secondary female characters or evil skanky women raped or killed in this story, for example, but she goes through some rather unrealistic lengths to make sure that the heroine doesn't get subjected to detailed horrifying abuse the way she subjected those other characters to. The unintentional message here seems to be that, whatever lip service we may pay aside, the only "acceptable" heroine is one that we do not specifically see being abused by the bad guy even if realistically, she would have suffered the same fate the moment she falls into the bad guy's clutches. We can still imagine that she's "pure" enough for the hero, how nice.
The heroine is the biggest liability in this story, by the way. Margaret isn't stupid as much as she is so hopelessly emotional that she rarely stops to think. She is so self-absorbed in her own misery that she actually expects everyone to drop whatever they are doing to cater to her. For example, her brother is missing. She understandably wants to find him back, refusing to believe that he is dead. When the hero tells her that he and the other men have to focus on other matters, like fortifying their defenses, she actually insists that she can't see what those matters have to do with locating her brother! When she can't get her way, she insists on running off alone to do whatever it is she wants to do. The result is still the same: Gannon has to protect her. And don't get me started about that scene towards the end! [spoiler starts] She knows that Gannon is involved in a fight with the bad guy, but she still has to run towards them, screaming out his name like a hysterical moron, thereby distracting him and letting the bad guy get the upper hand. [spoiler ends]
Other tropes aside from the idiot romance heroine from hell proliferate like bunnies in this story - sluts who like sex and therefore must be punished, men who like sex and do it often but don't get portrayed as villains because they are men and therefore the good guys, dumb brothers from hell, psychotic cartoon villains, and prophecy mumbo-jumbo to ensure that even the slowest reader will understand that Gannon and Margaret are destined to be forever and ever. There are also some laughably obvious plot holes, such as how Gannon, supposedly a master strategist, often gets unbelievably clueless so that the bad guys will get a chance to attack and, of course, capture the heroine. Oh, and some unrealistic good tidings at the end even if such fortunate turns of event for the heroine end up compromising the believability of the story.
Despite all that, though, On A Highland Shore is a satisfying entertaining read because the pace is pretty fast once the author has bloodily murdered most of the boring and annoying members of Margaret's family. Gannon is a rather boring and one-dimensionally perfect hero, but I'd take boring over an annoying bat like Margaret anytime.
To conclude, this book is very unoriginal. The author's unwillingness to let the heroine actually suffer after the initial butchery of her family often crippling the realism of the story. There is an annoying double standard prevalent here when the woman gets stoned for having sex while the man - the same man who participates in the bed-bouncing with her - goes off without any aspersion cast on his personality because it's all the woman's fault. But damn if the author hasn't told the story well because I can't put it down even if I am very much aware of the huge flaws in the story.
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