Monday, August 1, 2016

ARC Review: The Highlander by Kerrigan Byrne

Series:     Victorian Rebels #3
Pub. Date:Aug. 2, 2016
Publisher:St. Martin's Press
Length:368 pages

Kerrigan Byrne tricks us with deceptively simple titles for such complex and tormented heroes. Because The Highwayman, The Hunter, and now, The Highlander, are anything but what these simple labels would imply. For me, Kerrigan Byrne is a throwback author - her writing is a throwback to the 70s-90s when historical romances contained darker elements, more action, and complicated characters and plots. I heart her so much and, with this series, she has cemented herself onto my favorite authors list. Plus - she's super nice! I got to fangirl over Kerrigan a little at RT this year and I can't wait to stalk her down again at another signing.

In this third installment of the Victorian Rebels series, our heroine is almost as tormented as our hero. Philomena St. Vincent, Viscountess Benchley had a loving childhood with her widowed father. Before his death and wanting Mena taken care of, he arranges her marriage to the Viscount Benchley from the neighboring St. Vincent family, who appeared charming on the surface. However Mena quickly finds herself in an abusive and humiliating marriage with the very sadistic and cruel St. Vincent family. Once the family has run through Mena's money and have no further use for her, they have her declared mad and committed to the Belle Glen Asylum, a brutal institution with a perverse doctor, a fiendish orderly, and cruel nurses. Trust me when I say that Mena's time in the asylum was very hard to read - I think I was cringing the whole time and hoping it wouldn't go into too great of detail. This all served to get me emotionally invested in Mena's story and, of course, get your first ugly cry out of the way. Luckily Mena made powerful friends in The Hunter, and so she is rescued from Belle Glen by Dorian Blackwell and Christopher Argent. As a fugitive from her husband and the crown (for being deemed insane), Dorian and Farah send Mena to the Highlands disguised as a governess, Philomena Lockhart.

Liam MacKenzie, Lieutenant Colonel, Marquess of Ravencroft is known as the Demon Highlander for his berserker-like battle rage. Liam went off to war fully expecting to never return. He thought that would be better for everyone as he truly believes he has a demon inside him. Growing up with a monstrous father really did a number on Liam. After Dorian and Christopher, I didn't think Liam could beat them in the tormented-life stakes... but man, his story was just as heart-wrenching. The imagery Byrne uses to describe Liam, his tormented past and present, his persona, and even his physical characteristics really drew a picture of him in my mind and got me so wrapped up in his character that I didn't want to let go. Liam is a violent man, but a good man. He is tormented by thoughts that he will turn into his father, and this blinds him to his true nature. He loves his children. He cares for his people, his land and his legacy. He is the perfect protector for the battered and abused Mena. 

The relationship between Liam and Mena is touch and go. She obviously is battling more recent demons, jumping at shadows and flinching in the face of anger. Both Mena and Liam have secrets they are reluctant to share... Mena's marriage being the best secret of all. But the couple has an undeniable chemistry. Liam was Mena's salvation, and she was his redemption in turn.

I loved some of the landscape/setting and costume descriptions. But the detail Byrne put into the Samhain customs and traditions was fascinating. Secondary characters were fabulous as well. Liam's children were likable and added an extra element to the story. The relationship Liam wanted with his children helped humanize him, and allowed Mena to exercise her mothering instinct. Jani, Liam's Indian valet added his own sweetness and interesting insight and heartbreak to the story. But I don't know how to feel about Gavin Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne. To be his brother, Gavin treated Liam horribly. After the events that occurred in the prologue, and all the beatings Liam took for Gavin, I couldn't countenance the bitterness and betrayal heaped on Liam by the Earl. But Gavin also had a fun and playful personality with everyone else... so it was only Liam that suffered his prickly side.

I am so looking forward to the next book featuring Colin Talmage, Duke of Trenwyth, who helped disband the East India Company with Liam. I can't believe we have to wait until February 2017 though! That seems forever away!

I received an advanced copy of this book from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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