Thursday, September 03, 2009

Highland Rebel Review

Set in a dangerous time of religious and political upheaval and civil war, HIGHLAND REBEL tells the story of Catherine Drummond and Jamie Sinclair, two proud and lonely outcasts whose struggle for acceptance and survival draws them together in a partnership based on mutual interest that will transform them both. In so doing it transports the reader to Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, the court of King James II, and the coffee houses, backstreets and taverns of seventeenth century London, while chronicling the brief reign of England’s last Stuart king.

Born in the waning days of Cromwell’s England, despised as a bastard by his Puritan father, and abandoned by his mother, James Sinclair has learned from an early age to fend for himself. Charming, dangerous, and decidedly amoral, his quick wit, good looks and military prowess have served him well in the courts of two Stuart Kings, the grudgingly Protestant Charles II and the openly Catholic King James. Adventurer, courtier, mercenary and spy, he’s a master of disguise who can transform from aristocrat to beggar and disappear in any crowd. Sent to mind a troop of foreign mercenaries, he looks forward to completing his mission and collecting his reward, and when an inconvenient spark of gallantry and his own perverse humor cause him to marry a maid captured on the battlefield he intends the marriage to be in name only.

Raised in the Scottish Highlands, heiress to a title, a fortune founded on the whiskey trade, and properties in Scotland and in France, Cat Drummond is far from the camp follower Jamie mistakes her for. Fiercely loyal to family, clan and king, she’s born to rule, trained on the field of battle and at the court of Versailles, and equally comfortable in men’s breeches or a gown. Disguised as beggars on the streets of London, or glittering amongst the courtiers of Whitehall Palace, Catherine and Jamie will join forces in an age where treachery and adultery are the fashion, and cynicism, cruelty and barbed wit are the qualities most admired. But in a world where family, creed, and princes can’t be trusted, and faith fuels intolerance, hatred, and war, they’ll soon find themselves on opposite sides of a growing conflict that will force them to question everything they know, and test the bounds of friendship, loyalty and love.

Review: I'm doing this in a different style this time 'cause I want it to stand up and be noticed.

First off, anyone expecting this to be the kind of romance one is used to may be disappointed. Highland Rebel is different. Way back when I started reading, they didn't have the same kind of romance they do now. I grew up reading Daphne Du Maurier's King's General and Frenchman's Creek, Raphael Sabatini's Captain Blood and The Black Sway, Anya Seton's Katherine and Green Darkness as well as most of Mary Stewart and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

I loved these books; their sense of adventure, their all encompasing stories and wiled away many an hour reading and rereading over and over again. But as much as I loved them, there was something missing. Although they are all very romantic, there just wasn't enough romance, even though they were romance. They have stayed with me for years

And then the romance genre in it's present form came into being and I love it. But I really miss those sweeping sagas I used to read; the 'swashbucklingness' of many of the romances of yesteryear; the real sense of the times that is often missing in historical romances of today. There are very few historicals I read anymore that make me want to look further into the history of the times they were written in. I used to do that all the time in my beginning romance days.

And then I read Highland Rebel and it is an incredible hybrid of both. Ms. James has created a story and time that is vivid in it's richness. Very seldom anymore am I pulled so deep into a different time. Highland Rebel is a sweeping epic that takes the readers from the Highlands of Scotland to the court of James II to the island of Ireland. The research is amazing and the author incorporates into the story of Catherine Drummond and Jamie Sinclair is a seemless and amazing way.

Along with the wonderful setting, the characters of Cat and Jamie are so richly and lovingly created. We meet them both after a battle. Cat has been captured and Jamie decides on a lark to save her life by claiming her with marriage but she escapes shortly after that. Jamie follows and is captured by her clansmen. You see Cat just isn't any ordinary woman of the highlands. She has been raised to be the new clan leader. Intelligent, shrewd, beautiful, strong, she is a wonderful heroine; the kind you don't often seen in historicals - a person in her own right and not just the daughter of her father or the love interest of the hero. When I noticed that Wendy was also reading Highland Rebel, I emailed her, knowing that she's all about the strong heroine, but she wasn't far enough into it to offer an opinion. Athough, she did keep it with her when the late summer fires of California struck. She did the same thing with Broken Wing last year.

And Jamie - what a truly fascinating character he is. Although he grew up abused by his father and deserted by his mother, he has retained a joie de vivre that makes him totally irresistable.

After Catherine escapes, Jamie takes off after her as he really doesn't want to remain married. He's lived a life of genteel poverty and King James has a bride that will help him out of his 'situation'. But things don't go as he planned.

The book follows the story of Jamie and Cat as they bicker and plan to divorce each other - at their own convenience. Wem the readers, see early on that these two are perfect for each other, but it takes them, especially Jamie, much longer to see the thing that is the very best for him is right in front of him. We see them develop a deep and enduring friendship. Catherine is frustrated once she gets to England with the restrictions put on her because of her sex, but Jamie makes her his boon companion and shows her a side of life she never would have know. He recognizes and respects her for the person she truly is and in return, Cat becomes his best friend, someone who has his back, even literaly in one scene. She stands by him when all others abandon him. She rescues him and rather than being resentful, he appreciates all that she is.

I've been holding off a bit on writing this review as I don't want anyone to be turned away from the lack of romance between them for a good part of the book. Don't get me wrong; there is definitely attraction and feeling, on both sides, but they don't really act on them until later. But when they do, because the attraction and the friendship has been building all along, because of the level of trust, the love scenes are truly wonderful and a superb payoff.

I don't know if this book will be for everyone. If you like romance on the lighter side, this one may be a bit intense. It took me a bit longer than it usually does to read a book because it's so rich and lucsious it's best enjoyed in smaller bites so that you can savour it slowly rather than rush and miss the taste of it.

Both Jamie and Cat are completely different characters from Gabriel and Sarah of Broken Wing and I'm amazed that Ms, James has managed to write such a completely different story the second time around.

While Highland Rebel didn't have the same kind of visceral affect on me that Broken Wing did, I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it very, very much. It was like the best of the books I used to read all those years ago with all the romance that was missing.

This one gets a 5 out of 5 from me. Even though I'm finished, I still find myself thinking of it, remembering parts and it's one I know I will read again.

And because I believe so much in this book; and for those who want a taste of the kind of books they haven't read, or those readers who did read them and want that feeling again, I have a copy to giveaway. if you leave a comment letting me know why you want to read this one - you are entered!!

And unlike the other two I have to give away, this give away is open to anyone - anywhere!! The winner for this one will be announced on Sunday evening - to celebrate that I have Monday off



~ames~ said...

Aaaahhh!! Here's the review I've been waiting for! Nath said you enjoyed it.

I really enjoyed Broken Wing so I've been looking forward to reading this. And Cat sounds like a strong heroine, and I love me a strong heroine.

Great review Kristie!

Eva S said...

Thanks for your wonderful review!! I've been waiting for this book, but at the same time I was afraid, I loved Broken Wing and what if...
Now I know I have to read it!!

I have Captain Sabatini and Katherine on my keeper shelf and really would love to have something similar to read!

jeanette8042 said...

The review is very helpful and makes me want to read this book. I also want to try to read something different from all the paranormal books I have stacked.

orannia said...

Great review Kristie! I love those sweeping historicals with that hint of romance, so this sounds right up my alley :) I've added it to the TBR wish list and will look for it on the library catalogue.

I will admit I'm not a strong heroine fan, especially if she's also intelligent and beautiful, but I'm guessing from your review that Cat is far more than a sum of all her attributes?

Leontine said...

Although Jamie & Cat didn't capture me the way they did with you I wish they had. After reading your review I feel your love for this novel, how it swepped you away, how Cat and Jamie got to you.

I read the first chapters of Broken Wing and Gabriel, now he got to me from page one and I will soon read the whole book!! I want to taste the writing/characters of Judith James in its full glory :)

Kaetrin said...

I really enjoyed Broken Wing and I love the time period Highland Rebel is set in, er in which it is set.

Anyway, please count me in for the prize draw!

maered said...

Great review! I would love to read this book - count me in!

Heather D said...

OK Kristi I didn't read completely through your review, but I did read... OH MY Gosh I can't wait for my copy!! I am making a special trip into town today and hopefully find it in my PObox.

I have to admit that I am a little thrown by the "lack of romance" that both you and Cindy have mentioned but it has not diminished my desire to read another book by this author!

Mary G said...

Hi Kristie
I want to read this book because you're going to make me read it anyway. It's just a shortcut LOL.
Sounds as amazing as BW.

Anonymous said...

I'd been looking forward to this one. I usually avoid Highland stories because they're so, well, bizarre, but I'd hoped Judith would do better.
But before I take the plunge - please, please, please, tell me it's spelled "whisky" not "whiskey," and please tell me it's illegally gained money, because the distillation of whisky for sale wasn't legalised until the 1830's and the first distillery wasn't opened until several years later. I love the stuff, so it's really important to me.
Reassure me and I'm off to Amazon pronto.

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

I find your review encouraging because my debut novel had a similar "flaw" in that the romance is not presented as a stereotypical romance, and yet "Fire at Midnight" went on to receive excellent reviews. The only negative I've seen about my book is the very same criticism Judith is now receiving about the romance aspect of Highland Rebel.
Kristie, I think there is merit in the way you presented your review of Highland Rebel because it makes us think about our expectations when we pick up a book. For me, the bottom line is whether or not the book has entertained me, not whether it has satisfied every expected formula aspect of the genre for which it was written. I think we all know that Judith James writes great books!

Judith James said...

Hello Anonymous! I doubt Kristie can answer this question for you but perhaps I can, although I'm not sure it will reassure you. The history of whisky distilleries is a complicated one, directly affected by politics and attempts to control rebellious Scots. I had considered including it in the historical notes but they were already a little over crowded. Perhaps I should have.

In the 15th and 16th centuries most Scotch whisky was made and distributed for private use at home and with neighbours. The earliest historical reference to a distillery dates from 1494 in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls of that year. The earliest reference to a commercial distillery dates from 1690 where the Ferintiosh Distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden is named in the Acts if the Scottish Parliament, admittedly a year or two later than the events in this book, but I felt it safe to assume it didn’t suddenly appear on the scene on that particular date, nor was it the only one in operation. Indeed according to the Scotch Whisky Association whisky was taxed for sale from 1644 on but it was apparently not yet an overly burdensome tax. The troubles started in 1707 with the Union Act between England and Scotland. Suddenly whisky producers faced severe problems caused by heavy taxation instituted to tame rebellious clans. Although it was not illegal, it was illegal to withhold the extremely onerous and often capricious taxes, and in large part it drove the production and distribution of whisky underground. This did not happen though, until almost 20 years after the events in Highland Rebel take place. Catherine was negotiating with a king who looked upon Highlanders as valuable allies, not rebels who needed to be subdued.

The confusion might arise from the difference between malt whisky, which was a product of Catherine’s time, and grain whisky, which came about 140 years later. Catherine and the people of her time drank and produced malt whisky, a process I described in an earlier blog on Scotland. Many things changed in the 19th century both politically and with the industrial revolution. The excise tax law of 1823 sanctioned the distilling of whisky for a uniform and reasonable fee, replacing the outrageous and openly flouted tax system that went before. Smuggling died out almost completely shortly there after and there was a huge growth among distilleries. Then in 1831 Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey or Patent Still, which enabled a continuous process of distillation to take place and resulted in the grain whiskey most people are familiar with today. So although grain whiskey distilleries did not appear before 1831, Highland malt whiskey had been around for centuries prior.
As to the use of whiskey vs. Whisky, although I’m well aware the Scott’s spell it whisky and refer to the malted rather than grain whisky, whiskey is the more familiar term to modern readers, and that is the term that was used. Hope that clears things up and I do hope you will enjoy Highland Rebel.To those of you who are wondering, no I didn't spend hours writing about whisky, but I did spend hours trying to get it right :)

All the best

Kristie, Sorry for the long winded post and thanks you so much for hosting me and your lovely, thoughtful review!

Morning Glow said...

Count me in- I know I would love this book! I've been reading all the reviews, and with each review, the reader points out something else, and I give a little fan girly squee and want it even more. Is it bad that I get so excited about these things? No.. um.. right?

Morning Glow
ohmorningglow AT aol DOT com

Patti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patti said...

What a wonderful review! Count me in for your contest - this sounds like an amazing story. I get frustrated sometimes when the hero/heroine automatically "have feelings" for each other. The discovery of love through friendship makes for a better story IMO. This is a new-to-me author but I'm definitely going to check her out - thanks!

pspinney AT cox DOT net
(saw you have a link to another Patti, didn't want any confusion)

Pam P said...

Your review has me looking forward to reading it even more. I grew up reading those same authors, sweeping sagas, and still love a complex story like this.

Mandi said...

I loved this review. I like books that make you work - I like to see the relationship build and fall and rebuild itself until the couple finally admits their feelings for one another.

I'm in for the contest:)

Wendy said...

OK Kristie - I didn't read your review, but I did notice you mentioned me by name - so had to comment.

I'm STILL working through this book. I have not had time to read, and I'm starting to break out into a sweat that I'm not very far into the story yet. So far? Loving the hero, jury still out on heroine. But I gots lots o' pages left. I haven't given up on her :)

Kristie (J) said...

Wendy: I'm really looking forward to what you think of Cat. I found her a wonderful heroine. And it took me a while to read this book too - didn't want to rush through it.

Mandi: Then I think you will really enjoy this one *g* cause they do work towards their relationship.

Pam: Weren't some of those older books wonderful? Sometimes it took them years to reach their HEA and in these days of instant lust/instant love (and not that I'm saying anything against that) it's nice to have a relationship that builds through a book.

Patti: I like the friends first books too - and these two are best friends before they are lovers. And their friendship is just as intriguing as their lover relationship.

Morning Glow *g* Nope - not wrong at all!! Sometimes I will just fondle a book for a while first before actually starting it 'cause the excitement is too much.

Judith - thanks for your explanation as you're right - my answer was *ah* I don't know. I know there are many readers who pay attention to these kinds of details and my hat off to the authors who care enough and are interested enough to do the research, but most of it passes right over this readers head!*g*

Lisa: maybe because I've been reading romance in one form or another for so many years that I have seen it transition from romantic historical to historical romance. I love both - but each often has something missing. But HR combines both of what I love. And I really tried to get that across!!! That readers newer to romance, who didn't read the sweeping saga type book of decades ago, with the wonderful story telling but the shortage of romance. If they are expecting a straight-up romance - that not what this one is - but if they go into it, knowing that, and being open to appreciate the other wonderful delights of this book, then I think they may enjoy it more.

Anonymous - What Judith says *g*

Mary *g* I seem to have that effect on some people.

Heather: Hmmm - how to put this - it's not that there is a lack of romance. There is a WONDERFUL romance, but that's only part of the sum of the whole of what makes this such a good book.

Maered: OK - you are in! *g*

Kaetrin: It is a fascinating time period - and it looks like she has a few books coming up in the same time. It's SUCH a refreshing change of pace.

Leontine: Gabriel had me totally from the very first moment out on the balcony and kept me through the whole book!! Now I'm anxiously awaiting what you think of it :)
And I really think it was a plus for me enjoying this one so much that I read all those other ones in my early reading days. Highland Rebel brought back that wonderful love I had for them - but with a much better romance ;-) I know it didn't work for you as much as for me *g* but I really enjoyed your review

Orannia *laughing* Well - if Cat doesn't capture you - Jamie sure enough will. They are both equally wonderful. Whereas in many romances it's either or as to who is the larger than life character, in this one they both are.

Jeanette: I love a good paranormal myself - can hardly wait to dive into Patricia Briggs new one - but I also loved the nostalgia that I felt with this one.

Eva: I SO hear you!! I did the same thing. Broken Wing had such an effect on me I was almost scared to read this one - but I sure am glad I did!!

Ames: *grin* I know you've enjoyed a number of the same books I have so I'm thinking this will be the case with this one too.

Armenia said...

Wonderful review...gutsy. I've really got to get this book...5 out of 5....very impressive. Its got my attention. I love me a Highlander story anytime.

Kwana said...

I've just come from Wendy's blog and I'm so glad to read your review. I'm so sold. Yay!