Elizabeth Holcombe’s light and fun debut, the Scottish historical romance Heaven and the Heather is a delightful story of treachery, passion and humor.
An attendant to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, Sabine de Sainte Montagne is required to travel with her queen to Scotland. There she is to marry a powerful Scottish lord, as it was promised to her now dead father – the same father that banned her from her mountain home to serve the queen and who left her with nothing but a forced marriage when he passed away. When, upon her arrival in Scotland, the first man she encounters is not her betrothed but a brute Highland Scot, she knows that nothing will ever keep her in this country filled with savages.
Niall MacGregor, chief of his clan and declared an outlaw by the same treacherous lord that is now betrothed to Sabine, is out for revenge for his father and his brother’s deaths. Help can only come from the new queen and the one to get him an audience is the beautiful young French woman accompanying her. So with the help of a chicken and the involuntarily theft of Sabine’s only means of escape and survival, he blackmails her into assisting him.
Elizabeth Holcombe’s characters are not stereotypical, far from it. They are unique and initially not even that likeable. Sabine does come across as the typical haughty and prissy French lady, but soon it becomes obvious that she is a very talented and very hurt woman that deserves the reader’s and the hero’s respect for her strength, devotion and persistence. And Niall might be the chief of his Highland clan but he is not a warrior to use his mighty sword. His weapons of choice are stealth, good disguises and tempting smiles. And with Sabine, the one woman he can’t stay away from, he needs those weapons - especially as she knows how to deliver a good punch.
Ms Holcombe’s writing voice is unique and strong, perfect for her chosen historical era. The languages used make this story special with its easy flow and the pleasant sounds of Gaelic, Scottish and French. All of them offering a commendable feel of authenticity. She is not afraid of grand gestures in this grand adventure that more than once managed to surprise and intrigue me with unexpected but enjoyable plot turns.
Ms Holcombe’s extensive research is obvious in the many small details that never disrupt the flow of the story but provide the means for transporting the reader into late 1600 Scotland. And with glimpses of customs and vivid descriptions of the locations it’s no wonder that I, just like Sabine, was mesmerized and fascinated not only with the Scottish Highlands but also with the irresistible Niall.
Heaven and the Heather is a treat, a very fine debut for an author that has found her way on my keeper shelf and the must-have list.