by Helen Kirkman

December 2004
ISBN: 0-373-77017-0
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Mass Market Paperback

Embers is a rich and sweeping tale, filled with strong emotions and characters bound by hate and love. The tone is dark and very often desperate and fearful. Hope is a treasure easily lost. Treachery, intrigue and power struggles. The British Isles, 716 AD. Alliances shift and change, and a woman is used. A pawn, only of interest for what she will bring to the union, not for who she is as a person.

Once they were lovers. Desperate to escape her promised union to a cruel man, Alina finds peace with Brand, only to betray and leave him. While presumed dead, sheís safe, if not happy. An act of charity ruins it all and sheís brought back to life by Brandís appearance at her hideout and his demand to follow him to Northumbria. Once more Alina is trapped in a power struggle between men, and all she can do is stay true to herself. To save her brotherís life, to escape her fatherís reach, and to help the man she never stopped loving, Alina follows Brand through hostile lands up north.

Alina and Brand are two who belong together. Sometimes their journey is unbearable in its pain, guilt, shame, accusations and falsehoods. However, set in that time long gone, their actions belong and make sense. Given Brand's urge to protect and Alina's innocence, his doubts and her guilt might seem foreign to a person of our time, but when one reads about their upbringings and the dangers they face, itís easy to believe and understand their motives.

Alina might be princess of the Picts, but she is sheltered too much. Even when she is spending time at court, she is not a heroine with whom I can identify. And when she flees instead of facing her opponents, Iím not sure I want to identify with her. Her doubts, her ever-present fear, and her self-loathing are hard to take. However, her story in Embers is told with such passion and power, that I was unable to escape its pull. And Alina is determined to overcome all fear, hurt and injustice. She shows strength in how she goes about it and so stays undefeated. This courage she draws from Brand.

Transported back in time, all the readersí senses seem to be in tune with the events unfolding. The force the story is told with Ė the moments of tenderness and love are rare Ė vibrates through its many dark passages, propelling the reader forward without a chance of escape until a very much-deserved happy ending. Embers is not an easy read, but highly recommended to those looking for something dark, intense and lush. You donít read Helen Kirkmanís books, you experience them.

Reviewed in December 2004 by Kris Alice.

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