I really enjoyed Cindy Miles' first book, so I looked forward to reading her latest work, Highland Knight. While I did enjoy the story, I had the feeling of déjà vu, of having read the book before, as some of the plot devices seem to have been recycled from Spirited Away.
Ethan Munro was a man who was respected and feared in his own time - the 14th century. The leader of his clan, he also had bad luck with the women he was interested in; several met an early demise, leading to unpleasant rumors about him, rumors that continue into the present. Ethan and several of his men were placed under a spell in the early 1300s. They have no understanding of how they got that way, but know it started with the murder of Ethan's bride. The enchantment allows them to be human for one hour a day, during the gloaming, or around dusk. At all other times he and his men are more ethereal.
Amelia Landry is a mystery novelist suffering from a bad case of writer's block. Her able assistant arranges for her to vacation in a haunted castle in Scotland to get her creative juices flowing again. As she happens to be a horror fan, she begins to look forward to her trip. When she arrives at the castle, mysterious things begin to happen and she makes the acquaintance of the castle "ghost," Ethan. Besides her interest in the paranormal, Amelia is addicted to cheese-in-a-can and other junk food, and an expert in the art of Taekwon-Do. The Munro men find this martial art very intriguing and she sets out to teach them the skill, and introduce them to the 21st century pleasures of junk food and videos.
Amelia determines to solve the mystery of who murdered Ethan's bride in order to clear his name, with the help and hindrance of the two true ghosts who inhabit the castle and its environs. The good ghost wants to help Amelia in her search to find answers, while the other is busy trying to scare her away. Pumping the memories of the warriors, she is able to create an outline of the events that she will use to solve the mystery; it will also form the basis for the story she came to Scotland to write.
Ethan and Amelia's romance progresses slowly, at least in terms of sexual contact (after all, he is only whole one hour a day), so they come together on a more intellectual level as they puzzle out the secrets of the enchantment. Then there's Amelia's vow to remain chaste until her wedding day, which Ethan feels honor bond to keep, but that does not mean that the story lacks sexual tension; I think that it increases when it is limited. Ethan is also protective of Amelia, and tries to keep her safe, especially from the unknown evil spirit. He even attempts to remove himself physically from her presence in order to protect her, but Amelia will not stand for it.
Despite the fact that I liked the style of writing and the characters, I was disappointed that the plot so closely resembled the plot of Miles' first book, Spirited Away, in which an American woman comes to a castle that houses a group of enchanted spirits. She tries to set them free of the spell, with one good ghost who helps in the quest - I believe they even spoke the same line, "Save them," in both books - and another who works to prevent the spell's being broken. And, IIRC, a yew tree plays an important role in both books.
The revelation of the perpetrator of the enchantment and murder of Ethan's bride is another weak point in the novel - it is almost a deus ex machine revelation. I did not spot any red herrings or false suspicions. Since the author only mentions the character once, the observant reader can figure out the killer by the process of elimination.
I have not read the novel in-between her first and this one; it is in a to-be-read pile somewhere. I hope that it and her next novel are not another rehash of the same elements, because I believe the author is too good of a writer to stick to the same old story. I really want to see what else she can do.
-- Carolyn Esau
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