Kathleen Morgan’s tales of historic Scotland have captivated romance and historical fiction readers alike, and AS HIGH AS THE HEAVENS, a stand-alone title, should be a pleasant addition to the reading list of any Morgan fan.
The novel takes off quickly. Protagonist Heather Gordon was lucky enough to be born into Scottish nobility in the 1500s but feels vaguely dissatisfied with her life. Her beloved mother has died, and although Heather is one of the privileged few who has good books to read --- and knows how to read them --- she is bored. Her life seems ordinary, and she longs for something more.
Be careful what you wish for, she soon discovers, as she is given a task beyond her wildest fantasies. Her father, Lord Robert Gordon --- a heavy drinker and loyalist --- has never accepted the abdication from the throne of Mary, Queen of Scots. Without much preamble (which is a little jarring at the start), he tells Heather of a devious plan years ago where baby twins were separated at birth. The eldest twin, Duncan, is brought up as a member of Clan Mackenzie, not knowing that he is the son of Lord Stewart and an identical twin to the “darkly handsome” Colin Stewart.
In order to rescue the queen, 30-year-old Duncan must be convinced that he should pose as Colin and infiltrate Lochleven Castle where the queen is held. However, Colin has been raised as nobility, and Duncan has been raised to believe that he is a rough Highlander. And, the devious Lord Robert warns Heather, Duncan is not to know of his true identity. Rather, Duncan is told that he is “coincidentally” a look-alike to Colin --- and he believes it at first. Readers may have to suspend some disbelief here.
Since Duncan has no social polish and education in matters of clothes and conversation, Heather’s father persuades her to travel to Duncan’s home in the highlands for three months to teach the handsome Scot etiquette and manners. Romance, readers will know, can’t be far off. The sexual tension, which never moves past passionate kissing, still builds quickly. As Heather muses, “All she knew was he was danger personified, yet a danger she was drawn to nonetheless.”
But Robert Gordon’s character is deeply flawed, and 19-year-old Heather soon realizes that her father is using her and her physical charms for his own ends. He is drinking heavily and seems motivated by reasons beyond rescuing the queen, which leaves her daughterly love sorely tested. Will she keep her promise to her father, or will she give Duncan the answer to the question he has about his own roots? Readers will be caught up in Heather’s dilemma.
The story is relatively smooth. Historical fiction fans will delight in hearing about the times of John Knox, religious reform, intrigue with the Queen and other Scottish historical highlights. Christian readers will enjoy the strong faith themes. Morgan does a good job with rich period details, from the types of clothing and bedding used in the 1500s, to various foods prepared, to the lovely landscape Heather and Duncan would have seen in the Highlands during this century. Heather’s own struggle to be vulnerable in love and trust in God after her mother’s death is endearing, as is Duncan’s desire to discover his heritage --- and then decide what role it will play in his life.
There are a few trouble spots. Too much description slows the pacing in places, such as: “The ethereal beauty of the crystalline forms floating languorously past the windowpanes….” A little bit of this goes a long way. The dialect sometimes feels intrusive rather than a natural part of the dialogue, and in places it detracts from the central story. A glossary would have been helpful at the end of the book for terms used but not explained, such as ceilidhs.
Those looking for faith themes and a clean, enjoyable historical romance should find Morgan’s novel exactly to their taste. If you are entertained by this story, then you might also investigate Morgan’s Scottish series These Highland Hills and Brides of Culdee Creek.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on January 1, 2008