In A FIRE WITHIN, Kathleen Morgan satisfyingly concludes her These Highland Hills trilogy with another tale of intrigue, romance, forgiveness and faith.
It’s 1568 in Scotland, and Campbell clan chief’s sister Caitlin, a healer, is confused by her feelings for a visitor to the castle. She is both attracted to and repelled by the handsome Darach “Dar” MacNaghten, aka Darach MacFarlane, who secretly is on a mission to rescue his imprisoned brother and clan chief Athe MacNaghten from the depths of the Campbells’ Kilchurn castle. The MacNaghtens have lost their right to be a clan, and Dar holds the Campbells partly responsible for the MacNaghtens’ plight. He is not averse to using his good looks to woo Caitlin and trick her into helping him achieve his ends.
Dar finds Caitlin tempting (“a headstrong, fiery-tempered vixen”) and decides that the only way to rescue his brother is to take her hostage. But Caitlin gives Dar --- who she finds “a thief, liar, and heartless fiend,” or in another passage, a “despicable, slime-ridden varlet” --- a run for his money. As in all of Morgan’s novels, passion simmers just barely under the surface. When a woman is as agitated as Caitlin is about a man, there is no question that she won’t resist him for long. But the ties of clan and family are stronger than romance…or are they?
Dar is haunted by his past and his failure to protect a woman he loved who was also his brother’s betrothed. When she is found dead, he is accused of murdering her and cast out of the clan. And that’s just the beginning of his problems. As he tells Caitlin, “…These are difficult times. What one believes at one moment can well change in the next. Friendships can die; filial ties can be severed, and trusts can shrivel.” His words will prove true as the novel progresses.
Characters from the first two books make appearances: Naill’s wife Anne has taught Caitlin the art of healing, but frets over the proud and restless Caitlin’s seeming lack of common sense where men are concerned. Naill mounts a rescue for Caitlin, along with her cousin Iain. But the rescue backfires, and whether Dar can protect Caitlin from the circumstances they find themselves in seems tenuous.
Morgan uses dialect well, although I lost count of the dizzying amount of times characters told each other, “Dinna fash yerself” (or as we might say, “chill out!”). The men are braw and the women are bonny. The author excels at enriching her story with historical details; one of the richest descriptions in the book concerns a “clarsach,” or a lap harp carved with mythical beasts that represent Christ in different ways. Faith themes are woven throughout, from Dar’s despair (despite his clan’s motto, “I hope in God,” he had “given up on a just, merciful and loving God years ago”) to Caitlin, who struggles with the idea of giving up control and trusting God for her circumstances.
Readers may be confused that Dar bothers to go to such great lengths to get his brother out of prison following scene after scene showing what a brutish lout Athe is. But as readers of CHILD OF THE MIST and WINGS OF MORNING, the previous two books in the series, know, the loyalty to family and clan sometimes defy common sense. “Acceptance and love…he (Dar) had longed for that ever since he could remember, but perhaps that had never been what truly mattered.”
Readers who enjoyed the first two installments will find Dar’s journey toward embracing his calling, and both Dar and Caitlin’s spiritual quest, a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Fans of historical faith fiction will also embrace this Scottish romance, full of inspiration, period details and intrigue.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011