Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Highland Solution by Ceci Giltenan

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

Niall MacIan's estate is on the brink of ruin, brought about by the extravagance of Niall's stepmother, Eithne. Desperate to save Duncurra and people, Niall seeks the help of King David II, who comes up with a solution: wed Katherine Ruthven and gain her dowry. Despite the rumors about Katherine, about her lack of looks and wits, Niall agrees to the bargain.

Though she is an heiress and mistress of Cotharach Castle, Katherine Ruthven quietly suffers the abuse of her uncle to protect her clan. When she walks into her grand hall and, when her uncle announces that she is either to be wed or be sent to a convent, Katherine chooses the former, believing that it would give her more freedom and a chance at a better life.

Niall is uncertain what to think of his new wife: the rumors about her were obviously false because Katherine is beautiful. He is determined to keep Katherine at arm's length and tries to see their marriage as a business arrangement -- but Katherine's smiles disarm him and her gentle voice touches him in a way he has never felt before.

As they travel to Duncurra, in the Highlands, Katherine realizes that she has to adjust to a new way of life -- thankfully, she has Tomas (a stable boy she rescued from her uncle) and Fingal, Niall's half-brother to guide her and keep her company. Beyond that, she also has to adjust to a new husband, who, as laird, is used to having his orders obeyed implicitly.

Husband and wife test each others' boundaries: she tests how far her husband is willing to bend and how much of his heart he is willing to give. When Niall's stepmother unexpectedly arrives, it further tests Katherine's newfound confidence and authority but, more importantly, it tests Niall: is he willing to listen to his heart and trust his wife or will he fall back into his old ways and mistrust everyone?

Highland Solution is Ceci Giltenan's debut novel and it's a good one. This novel shows that the author has a good sense of story and conflict: Niall is the central character here and it is his transformation that we wait for and witness as the story progresses. In the beginning, our hero is almost misanthropic in his very poor opinion of women -- his past experience with his stepmother (and a woman named Ceana) has colored his view of the opposite sex: Niall believes they are manipulative, wicked and heartless. He carries these prejudices as he travels to marry Katherine, who is his only recourse to save his clan.

He knew very well what master manipulators women could be. Would he never learn? He only wanted this illusion to be true, so the sooner he drove out these romantic notions, the better.
- loc 298

But Niall's opinion of Katherine (and of women in general) slowly softens and changes as he witnesses the gentle strength of his wife. Katherine truly blossoms in the Highlands, and I'm glad she had a few champions: Edna, Fingal and Father Colm.

There is another person that Niall is suspicious of: his younger half-brother, Fingal -- this hostility was a little bit more difficult to understand as Fingal never showed any indication of treachery. In fact, I appreciated his point of view in the story: he seemed very sensible and incredibly loyal to the MacIans and to Duncurra.

Fingal tried one last time, speaking very lowly, "Niall, she is my mother and that is only by sad chance. She has never been a real mother to either of us. She doesn't have the capacity to love anyone but herself, and still ye give her free rein over your clan. Ye have a wife who has given ye her heart, and yet ye are letting the same woman who destroyed ye destroy her as well."
- loc 1788

But, perhaps, his view of his brother was affected by his stepmother -- who loomed over this story like an ominous shadow. When Eithne finally surfaces, I was holding my breath to see how truly evil and despicable she was -- and she doesn't disappoint: this was a wicked stepmother to beat all wicked stepmothers. (Read about her arrival in Chapter 13.)

This development in the story also marked the beginning of my frustration with Niall, who I wished defended Katherine more -- but Niall was just as wary of his stepmother as everyone else was and avoided any confrontation with her. Niall's difficulties continued to snowball when he hears reports that a rival clan, the Mathesons, were planning to attack his keep. Besieged within his own household and threatened outside, Niall has no choice but to trust his instincts.

Niall comes across as a bit stubborn and somewhat blind to his wife's troubles with his stepmother, but he is aware of his failings:

"Aye, lass, I will try," he said with a grin, "but I fear I am a very flawed man, and set in my ways. It may take a few tries before I get the knack of it."
- loc 1386

To his credit, when Niall gets it, he really gets it. ^_^ I thought Ceci Giltenan captured very clearly the precarious nature of "politics" in the Highlands -- Niall valiantly tries to provide stability for his clan and has done so quite admirably, despite his stepmother's interference. The excitement builds in the latter part of the story and the author shows us how all the pieces of the puzzle fit: Niall, his stepmother, the Mathesons, Katherine, etc.

There are two aspects of the story, which I hoped the author fleshed out more: the first was the fate of the Ruthvan holdings. It didn't sit very well with me that Katherine's evil uncle gained ownership of Cotharach Castle just like that. And the second, who Ceana was to Niall.

Overall, an enjoyable Highland read.

To find out more about Ceci Giltenan and her books, click below:

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the author. Yes, this is an honest review.


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