Extended Review: Christina Courtenay's Highland Storms
I hate starting in the middle of a series. In fact, I almost never do it — so when I found out Highland Storms was a sequel to Christina Courtenay’s acclaimed novel Trade Winds (confession: I hadn’t read it before taking on Highland Storms), I was floored.
My reaction comes from Highland Storm’s strength. This killer Scottish romance is seeped in fascinating history, with plenty of chemistry and action to go around. Brice Kinross and Marsaili Buchanan are a devoted couple with passion that simmers into a slow, satisfying boil.
The tale begins with Brice and Marsaili together in misery, though physically apart. Marsaili, the housekeeper at the Rosyth Estate in the Scottish Highlands, may be gorgeous, but scores of unwanted suitors have forced her to barricade herself in her room at night and enlist the help of Liath, her trusted and protective hound. Worst of all, the offenders is Rosyth’s manager Colin Seton whose obsession with Marsaili crosses the line into violence.
Brice is across the North Sea in Sweden, reeling from a family betrayal. While Brice was off traveling the oceans, his childhood sweetheart took up with his with younger brother. Their indiscretion made for a hasty marriage, and Brice wants to get far away from his family and his heartache. His father, a Scottish expatriate, has just the solution for him: return to the Highlands and take over Rosyth, the family estate.
Brice lands in Scotland in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion when England is set on punishing the chieftains and clansmen who tried to advance the ascension of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Lairds and their people have been treated horribly at the hands of the English who are attempting to break up the chieftain/clansmen system of rule. It was only through legal maneuvering and Swedish citizenship that the Kinross family was able to hold onto Rosyth.
Author Courtenay’s investment in Highland history pays off big time. Brice’s reclaiming Rosyth as its laird, especially as he is a stranger and potential adversary to the clansmen, illuminates a dark and struggling period in Scottish history, as well as provides evidence for the emotions and reaction Brice’s return elicits. Good historical romances allow readers to romp around and experience bygone days, allow you to sympathize and relate to the characters via past events and often gives a budding relationship that extra oomph of tension. Great historical fiction builds on all of those things while grounding each and every character’s motivations in the long past events. For the record, Courtenay’s Highland Storms is a great historical romance.
The relationship between Brice and Marsaili is what I consider a slow burn romance, with lots of smoldering looks and heated exchanges — plus, there’s the lake scene (for all you Robert Redford fans out there, think Out Of Africa in the rollicking Scottish Highlands). In so many romances, there’s instant chemistry and bam!, the two leads are on a clear-cut destination to coupledom, stopped only by society, finances and schemes. Not so with Highland Storms — oh sure, there are schemes, mainly propagated by the lecherous Seton — but more than that: there’s an honest depiction of love developing from personal actions and responsibility, values and good-natured flirting. Brice Kinross is just an out-and-out good guy. Sure, it’s a little maddening sometimes when he is still stuck on his childhood love, but luckily Marsaili changes that in due time.
And I would be remiss not to mention how important family life is to the lead characters and to the story itself. Interestingly enough, it seems like there are three intertwined family dramas going on, but in a way that totally makes sense. Without letting the cat out of the bag, romance isn’t reserved strictly for Brice and Marsaili. In the most wholesome of ways, it’s a family affair.
But the family affair sense of the story also extends to the family being in jeopardy together. It’s not just the English’s fault that Rosyth is in shambles; there’s something afoot with estate manager Seton. Seton’s manhandling of the financial situation at Rosyth, combined with his fury at the new laird’s interest in Marsaili is enough to spark danger for Brice and his loved ones. As the calm-yet-tense tale plunges into a fast-paced action, readers will savor how quickly adventure leads to passionate encounters.
Highland Storms is more than a Scots-soaked romance, it’s also a bit of an education. But if, like me, you’re don’t want this author's entertaining brand of school to end when you get to the last page of her latest novel, be sure to check out Trade Winds and other historical romances by Christina Courtenay!
- Maria Planansky