Heaven And The Heather
by Elizabeth Holcombe, historical (2002)
Jove, $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13402-3


I take my imaginary hat off and tip it to Elizabeth Holcombe: she tries to tackle a complicated plot of political machinations in Heaven And The Heather. Alas, her characters act in bewildering nilly-willy ways just to further the plot and they do it in oh-so-annoyingly childish ways sometimes.

Sigh. Better luck next time.

Sabine de Sainte Montagne is a beautiful woman who thinks herself unlovable and ugly because she has a crippled right hand. She's one of those heroines. She is also a talented artist. She doesn't like her dead Daddy much - now this is something I don't come across often - but she is even more annoyed with him now that he is dead. Why? Her daddy asked Queen Mary to find Sabine a good man to be her husband. The Queen chooses a tall handsome rich man named Lord Campbell to be Sabine's husband.

Sabine is aghast. Firstly, he calls her beautiful, when she knows she is not beautiful - she will not take that! She must run away. Let's see, five gold coins and her pretty pretty pictures in one sac (is that a bag thing?) and she's on her way. Of course, heroines in 1561 Scotland are just as stupid as the virgin single mothers of 2002 Harlequin America, so before one can say "Brain School", Sabine loses her sac. Oh no! Where will Lil' Miss Einstein run to now?

Her sac is now with our hero, Niall MacGregor. Niall is a laird with many problems, which he will nicely tell the winds - and me - in Chapter One. He wants to have an audience with Queen M desperately because his lands are being seized by Campbell (Sabine's betrothed - oh how freaking convenient). He will use his sac - that sounds... never mind, he will use the sac to force Sabine to get him an audience with Mary.

Of course, our intelligent Sabine's heart goes pitter-patter because this rude, coercive jerk is so hot compared to that rich, handsome English lord who thinks she's pretty. How lucky for her that Campbell will turn out to be a Villain with a Capital C where it comes to caricature. That way, we can all smile as our heroine runs off to marry the man with nothing but Scots genes to recommend him as a hubby material.

Later our twosome will work together to foil a murder plot on Queen M (guess who is behind the plot, you have two seconds, starting now). In this case, working together sees our intelligent twosome bungling and stumbling through several shockingly stupid actions that cause only more problems. These people claim to trust each other, but withhold information for the sake of conflict. Their emotional maturity are pretty much stunted: Sabine acts like a fifteen-year old naive girl when it comes to seeing outlaws as "free" and other nonsense while Niall's thought process lumbers on like a slow yak that I soon suspect that thinking may not be his strongest forte. These people seems unable to display any emotion apart from "happy" or "sad". It's very hard to see them as anything but cardboard people. And let's not go into the coming-and-going Magic "Nae, Yae, Nae" ebonics of our Scots hero.

An ambitious plot is what this book has, but underdeveloped stock characters and careless plot development make it difficult to appreciate the setting or anything else for that matter. Heaven And The Heather could use a lot more plot tightening and consistent characterization - let's see if Ms Halcombe got it right in her next book.

Rating: 62


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