Publisher: Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN
Release: May 2010
299 pages; includes discussion guide
Scotland, 1473. Highland warrior Bryce MacPhearson kidnaps Akira MacKenzie on her wedding day to honor a promise he made to his dying father. When he forces Akira to wed him, hoping to end a half-century feud between their clans, she struggles to overcome her anger and resentment. Yet her strength in the Lord becomes a witness to Bryce. But there is a traitor in their midst. . .and murder is the ultimate weapon.
Akira MacKenzie willed her knees not to fail her.
I confess to a penchant for tartan historical romances. As I open the cover and turn to the first page of the first chapter, the bagpipes of my imagination begin to play and the bodhrans to pulse in some ancient Gaelic rhythm. And so it was as I opened Highland Blessings, Jennifer Hudson Taylor’s debut novel, and settled in for a good read.
But Taylor gives no quarter for such complacency. While the pipes begin their drone, the bodhran takes over, beating faster and faster until it sounds like the pounding of horses hooves—Bryce MacPhearson’s destrier, to be exact.
Bryce is an uninvited guest who invades the wedding party of spirited Akira MacKenzie and swoops the lass on to the back of his horse, as an eagle might rapture a field mouse. It is not love that inspires Bryce’s kidnapping, however, but a promise forced upon him by his dying father, chieftain of the MacPhearson clan, to fulfill a covenant with Akira’s father, the MacKenzie clan chieftain. The two clans have been locked in a bloody feud for half a century, and the patriarchs hoped that a marriage between the ruling families would quell the fighting.
The journey to the MacPhearson castle is a difficult one for Akira. Bryce’s men show their respect for him and their disdain for her. Bryce himself makes it clear that she is merely a pawn, an unwelcome obligation. Once they arrive at the castle, Akira is treated no better. MacPhearsons consider her presence an intrusion and demonstrate their hatred and distrust at every turn. Seeking solace, she finds her way to the chapel, where she can be alone with God. Even as she prays to return home, she submits to God’s will—whatever that may be.
Bryce, being the middle son, is not the intended bridegroom. Akira is to wed the MacPhearson chieftan, Evan, the oldest son, but when Evan meets an untimely death, the responsibility falls to Bryce. Akira refuses to consent to the marriage, so Bryce exercises his right to marry by proxy. Akira awakens one morning to learn that she is now the lady of the manor. Despite the circumstances of the marriage, Akira pledges her allegiance first to God and then to Bryce as her husband.
Though murder, deception, and betrayal stalk the halls of the castle, and a traitor who is no respecter of clans threatens the hard-won, tenuous peace between the MacPhearsons and the MacKenzies, Akira’s courage builds a bridge between fear and faith and woos Bryce to want to know more about the God she serves. She is a Christ-like figure in that she is willing to sacrifice herself to avoid further bloodshed. At one point, she performs an incredible act of forgiveness when she pleas for the life of one who nearly ended hers.
This fast-paced story left me gasping for air on more than one occasion. Taylor’s authentic descriptions of the highlands and life in the fifteenth century reflect meticulous research.
I thank Jennifer Hudson Taylor and Abingdon Press for the opportunity to review Highland Blessings, and I eagerly await the sequel Highland Sanctuary, slated for release on October 1, 2011.