In WINGS OF MORNING, the second installment of These Highland Hills, Kathleen Morgan offers up her own trademark brand of historical romantic fare that, while engaging, requires turning a blind eye to some cliched plot elements.
Morgan picks up from the first book in the series, CHILD OF THE MIST, which introduced us to the feuding, superstitious world of the Scottish Highlands in the 1500s. In it, we met Niall Campbell and Anne MacGregor and followed their tempestuous marriage. In this sequel, Niall's brother Iain takes center stage. We're also introduced to the 17-year-old orphaned Regan Drummond, who has been raised by the MacLaren clan and is now to be wed to her best friend, Roddy MacLaren.
However, on her wedding night Regan discovers Roddy's darker side. Inexplicably, she's angry with him for getting drunk, but a few paragraphs before, she's urging him to down some wine before he comes to their marriage bed. After fleeing from her new husband (and conveniently staying a virgin), she is stunned the next morning when she discovers Roddy has been murdered. Her new brother-in-law, Walter, vows vengeance on Iain Campbell, who Walter says killed Roddy. But we're already pretty sure who has killed whom.
Regan rides out on horseback and ends up in an accident, which lands her at the Campbells' castle suffering from amnesia. She's nursed back to health (can you say PRIDE & PREJUDICE?) and falls in love with the kind, handsome laird Iain, whose gotten over his love for Anne from book one and is ready to turn his attentions elsewhere. Kathleen Morgan knows how to weave sexual tension throughout her novels, and the romance heats up nicely between Regan and Iain.
Disappointingly, amnesia has been so overused as a plot device that the reader can't help but feel this is an easy way to make the story move along. Regan predictably regains her memory just before the Queen visits, and she's able to bring her murder accusations against Iain directly to the authorities. The reader is left scratching her head at this point, wondering why a woman who loved Iain so desperately would desire to avenge her husband of one night by seeing her love interest executed for murder. It's also a bit unbelievable that Iain's family continues with varying levels of affection to care for Regan, who is now trying to unjustly (but justly in her mind) accuse the kind and generous Iain. To say the reader needs to suspend disbelief is to state it lightly.
Some of the Scottish terminology (as in CHILD OF THE MIST) is confusing (a glossary would be helpful) and, when it is frequently used, detracts from the smooth pacing of the book ("Weesht" is enjoyable the first time, but gets old quickly.) There's the unavoidable comparison of a woman to a horse, which unfortunately appeared in CHILD OF THE MIST (this time, it's "Bridle the filly before she takes the bit, and she's forever out of control.") It's a tired analogy that is used far too often in romance novels.
Despite these missteps, Morgan excels at including some nice historical details, including a section on roses --- which might slow down an uninterested reader --- but as a gardener, I found it absorbing. Her settings are usually well-described, "the heath washing the hills in lavender and pink, the sparkling burns flowing through the glens, and the eagles soaring overhead."
If historical fiction readers can suspend their disbelief about some of the plot elements, they should find this an engaging romance.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on February 1, 2006