Highland Crown by May McGoldrick
So many Highlander romances ignore the harsh realities of life in Scotland, the way those not in the top 1% in particular suffered under English rule, and the sheer callousness many had to adopt as their way of life just to try and survive.
Highland Crown is the rare novel which does none of these things. Beginning with the way the heroine, Isabella, is on the run after her husband was murdered just for trying to give medical aid to men injured in an Edinburgh riot. Isabella’s in hiding in a tiny fishing village on the coast, waiting for word she can get passage safely to Canada, when a ship wrecks on the shore. She’s horrified to realise the villagers have no intention of helping any surviving crew; they want anything they can salvage from the wreck without having to share.
A doctor trained on the Continent, Isabella’s oath won’t let her stand by. She goes out to help, exposing herself to danger in the process because there’s a price on her head, and meets our hero, Cinead. (Incidentally, I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce Cinead and had to Google it - KIN-ay seems to be the general consensus).
Although he lost his ship - and made the choice to burn it to prevent the gunpowder and weapons he was smuggling to rebels from falling into the wrong hands - Cinead Mackintosh is injured and alone among those who’d happily slit his throat. Save, that is, for Isabella, the woman like no other he’s ever met, who saved his life and is clearly on the run from the law, just as he is.
There’s some wonderful bits of historical fact woven seamlessly into the fictional romance here, and this writing duo really know how to build up great characters and narrative tension to keep a reader utterly enthralled. Though most of the action takes place in the city of Inverness rather than in some remote mountain castle, the character of the Highlands is deeply woven into the narrative, the indomitable Scots pride an integral part of the story.
I was wondering where the heck the narrative was going to lead to a happy ending for much of the book, until a sudden rather shocking twist (which made sense in the context of the story, but I really didn’t see coming) regarding Cinead’s heritage was revealed towards the end, and then I discovered that Highland Crown is actually the first part of a planned trilogy. I’m now absolutely fascinated to find out what happens next for Cinead and Isabella!
5 stars for a wonderfully written romance which will immerse you in the Highlands of the 1820s - the real Highlands, gritty and sometimes brutal, but as wild and free as the proud Scots who inhabited them.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.