My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
True to the Highlander, book 1 of Loch Moigh series, was my first book by Barbara Longley. The story itself was so much fun that I cruised through it almost without one frustrating moment. I have to admit that I’ve been on a reading slump lately and this book, which I requested rather on whim, came as a fresh breath of air. Alongside good writing and funny moments, True to the Highlander was dramatic with a touch of mystery and a lot of Malcolm and Alethia, who came to be known as ‘True’ to Malcolm’s clan.
When I requested for this book, I had no idea it was a time travel story. I think the word ‘Highlander’ overshadowed everything else. Need I say that I love anything that says ‘Highlander’, hmm? ;) I'm not that big on time-travel theme cause more often than not I end up having to suspend my disbelief to a great level, and yet, the author was able to avoid the clichés rather well.
The story, though, starts with our h, Alethia coming out of a Renaissance fair where she was working too. An orphan, Alethia had been gifted with ‘visions’ since childhood, a fact she does everything to hide. Who wants to be known as a ‘freak’, right? Alethia is not completely comfortable with it but being of mixed origin with her Native American ancestry and heritage to guide her, she had had the teachings of the paranormal from an early age. She’s not in denial about her ‘powers’, yet she doesn’t know what she can actually do about it, or with it. The answer sort of falls into her lap when she finds drawn to the tent of Madame Giselle, an elderly gypsy fortune teller. Alethia had previously tried avoiding her because she could sense something in her that always made her uneasy. But with the old woman’s rambling about her ‘fate’ and her role as a savior to someone, Alethia becomes confused. And then, she’s thrown into the 15th century, on the path of one Malcolm MacKintosh, the heir to the MacKintosh clan.
Malcolm was returning to his home when he and some of his fellow warriors find a woman, Alethia, on their path; more precisely, right in front of Malcolm. Because she was wearing consume that looked like a medieval era dress, they had nothing to be suspicious of, not initially. Also, Alethia’s other belongings, the stuff like her violin, laptop etc. she carried with her was in her bag that laid close by. One warrior, a mean looking one named Hugh, takes particular interest in her when she regains her consciousness. He thinks Alethia’s reply about her origin is sketchy at best, so she’s fair game for whatever he wants to do with her. It also doesn’t help that her darker skin and beautiful black hair makes her exotic and very attractive. Malcolm could attest to that cause he himself starts fighting a pull the moment she’s conscious......... and then things start happening that made me laugh so hard. Alethia trying to escape, calling Malcolm names in 21st century lingo, Malcolm trying to decipher what the hell those means... gosh, it was one big mass of hilarity!
Alethia isn’t particularly amused when Malcolm, very strictly, tells her that she’s going home with him. No questions asked. Once she understood, to her absolute horror, where Giselle had send her and even though his big warrior’s body with blonde good-looks threw her completely off-kilter, Alethia keeps trying to escape him, not knowing what lies ahead of her. Is he good or a bad guy? Can she trust him? Or the biggest one; where can she actually go, if not with him? It’s not like she knows anyone here. And that Hugh gave her the scare too. So, though they fought and bit each-other...er, no Alethia did that to Malcolm (don’t ask), and even though she calls him an ‘Alpha Jerk’ (throughout the story mind you), she is forced to go with Malcolm. If just to sort out her life and regroup, then escape once she knows what da hell has happened to her!
Once at Malcolm’s keep, it doesn’t take a lot for Alethia to feel at home. The people are nice, and though they have their own suspicions about her identity, Alethia isn’t made to feel like an outsider. Malcolm’s younger sister, Elaine and their mother, Lydia were one of the firsts to welcome her with open arms. Alethia, vaguely tells William, Malcolm’s father and Laird to the MacKintosh clan about coming from a far away country. Because of her darker skin and exotic looks, they believe in her story. Alethia even draws a garbled map of the USA, not that either Malcolm or William could understand. Because her father was the chief of their tribe, both Malcolm and William deem her as the daughter of a King. But they’re still not entirely sure of what to make of this situation.
Malcolm though, makes Alethia his ‘responsibility’ and demands more than once that, if she ever, ever needs anything, she should come to him. It was just way too funny to find a pouting Malcolm when Alethia wouldn’t ask him for something she needed or looking for. And I loved when Alethia would go ‘you’re not the boss of me’ to anything she deemed Alpha Jerk-ish coming from Malcolm. Malcolm’s 15th century ear would translate it as ‘you’re not the bossame’, leaving him wondering what the hell she meant by that. There were plenty of examples like that, Malcolm or his clansmen trying to decipher Alethia’s 21st century lingo, and thinking that the odd sounding words must be something that goes around where she’s from. I especially loved Robley, Malcolm’s cousin, going ‘tam-pons’... I think I laughed for a good while. This I absolutely loved in this book; the differences shown between the languages from centuries wayyyy apart with clarity.
As Alethia tries settling in, a plan of escape begins forming in her mind. She hides her bag and all the 21st century stuff very carefully in a trunk in hopes of grabbing them when she leaves. At first, she’s not sure if she could eat the food, the hygiene level becoming a big concern. Also, tampons, an absolute necessity! She finds a pack in her bag and feels rather victorious! With Elaine’s help and friendship she also finds new clothes and learns her way about the keep. One thing Alethia doesn’t like though, is being the Alpha Jerk’s responsibility. She’s way too attracted to him for her own good, so being just a ‘responsibility’ doesn’t sit well. But that was only Malcolm’s way of telling her he has started to care for her. He was a great guy, our Malcolm; a responsible man who loved his family and his clan wit everything he has to give. He’s devoted and a worthy heir to his father. He knows he needs to marry soon as his parents have been nagging him to do... and as the days passed, the notion of marrying Miss Alethia begin looking quite pleasant to our Malcolm. :p
In the meantime, Alethia kept thinking why is she actually here. By now, she has decided it must be Malcolm who’d need saving at some point. He has already mentioned about meeting Giselle once and the information only proved strongly that she is here for him. Then there was the locket the old woman gave her. Malcolm, it seems possesses, something given to him by Giselle that looks like a match of her piece. Alethia was so uneasy about her predicament that she sold her piece to a local man at the first chance she got. She also rescues a little deaf boy, who has been abandoned after his all the members of his family perished. The boy had no one to call his own, and seeing him begging for scraps from the people as they ate, Alethia’s heart broke for him. She knows sign language and decides to teach the boy so that he can at the least communicate with her.
With Malcolm’s permission and Elaine’s help, Alethia takes the boy in, revealing his beautiful face after a thorough cleanup. She also gives him a new name as no one seems to remember what he was called by his family. Hunter becomes Alethia’s shadow in a few days, forming an unbreakable bond that came into light the same day she took him in, that they can communicate through their thoughts. He also proves to be very intelligent, getting along with sign language that Alethia has been teaching him. On this queue, Alethia thinks this would be great if the people here also learn how to communicate through sign language, a venture that proves to be successful with many, if not all.
Gradually, it’s revealed that Alethia is a girl of many talents. A gifted musician, Alethia won many fans here, including William and Lydia, also Malcolm’s uncle and aunt, Robley’s parents. At each festival or gathering, Alethia is requested to play her violin, a piece of instrument very foreign to the people here. But, like everything else, they took this as a part of a faraway tradition. Alethia also starts thinking of doing things, helping around, to earn their trust. Bit by bit she begins falling in love with this land and the people who live in it. But it’s her unwavering attraction to the Alpha Jerk is what gets to her. I thought Malcolm’s appreciation of her was plain to see, even if the portrayal was a bit medieval-ish for Alethia’s liking. This is also why she’d interpret things in a wrong way, leaving her confused about Malcolm’s feelings.
William, the Laird, goes on a mission for King James, leaving Malcolm the responsibility of the keep. He is accompanied by his brother and sister-in-law, so Robley and his elder brother, Liam are left with Malcolm to share this immense responsibility. Robley’s family keep is attacked by another hostile clan, Hugh being a part of this treachery. He was, of course, trying to bite the MacKintosh arses cause he was kicked outta here for his vile nature. Malcolm leaves home for days and takes care of it, showing that he’s indeed a fine warrior.
At this point, Liam’s restlessness catches Althia’s attention. After much cajoling, he confides in her. After learning of Liam’s dilemma, Alethia is very sympathetic. She, of all people, knows what it feels like to fall in love so unexpectedly. Poor Liam, fell in love with Mairen, the daughter of the Laird of Comyn’s, the arch enemy of the MacKintosh. They’re truly in love and the girl is entirely innocent of any treachery her father and clan have been responsible for in the past. But Liam has no idea how can he save his beloved from her piece of sh!t of a father and worse, marry her without any objection. Alethia asks him not to give up and talk to Malcolm for a solution. But Liam stalls this, knowing the situation is hopeless. Alethia also meets a handsome guy at a fair who seemed distinctly interested in Elaine. Upon query, she confesses to Alethia that she and Dylan are in love. But he’s a second son, her half sister’s brother-in-law. William wants his daughter to make a prosperous match, love doesn’t really play a big role here. Elaine knows that her man will not bring a lot as a second son, hence the prospect doesn’t look well. Moreover, William has already made a match in Dylan’s clan with his eldest daughter... so, again, another situation that leaves another couple in a tangle. Here too, Alethia asks Elaine to not to lose hope and if possible, to stand up for what she wants so badly.
When the nosy clan members decide that Malcolm is not doing enough to stake his claim on Alethia, whom they’d thought a match for him, they scurry about finding a new ‘suitor’ for her. Robley, the rogue, steps in, more than a little interested. Malcolm hears of it alright, which ticks him off rather bad. Poor guy! Finally he decides that there’s no better time than to marry Alethia just about now... which he does, without her even realizing it until after the handfasting is done. Now, Alethia should’ve been incensed and she is for some times, but she can’t deny her feelings for Malcolm’s alpha Highlander ways any longer. Giving in to him only seemed right. There’s no say what the future holds, and she can only make the best of what she found here; a new home, a man and his clan to love and care for.
Things do turn out to be rather smashing for Alethia and Malcolm when their new-found intimacy as married couple brings them even closer. Malcolm even adopts Hunter as his son not only because he knew this would a requirement if he marries his ‘True’ but also because he has come to care for the boy. Even though her life seems fulfilled at the moment, Alethia can’t but worry that someday everything would be torn away from her. She still doesn’t know what is it that she has to do in order to save Malcolm. In the meantime, a couple of months pass by while they wait for William’s return and a priest to visit the clan after the winter months to marry ‘officially’. Winter leaves and soon, Spring is upon them. Good news fills the MacKintosh keep as Alethia finds out she’s expecting Malcolm’s baby.
Just about then, King James decrees that the clans stop their eternal feuds, the son of the Laird of Comyn comes with an apparent peace offering. But Malcolm’s gut feeling warns him otherwise. It only enhances when Alethia keeps having vivid visions, the very first for her, which are as bloody and gruesome as they can get. All about Malcolm and his men falling into a trap cooked up by the Comyns and being brutally murdered in their hands. It was heartbreaking cause she would see the chaos unfolding in front of her, yet like a specter could do nothing but watch. When Malcolm learns of her dream, he doesn’t brush it aside, asking for her help. After the careful planning, what Alethia does is to tell him that she’s coming with them. Malcolm, of course, is having none of it. Logical choice, seeing how it’s so dangerous. There’s also the fact that she’s pregnant with the MacKintosh heir. Soon, one day, Alethia wakes up, to find Malcolm gone already to avoid her tagging after him.
Alethia is desperate if nothing else. Her own gut feeling is telling her that she’s going to lose Malcolm if she’s not present there and solve this puzzling piece of mystery. She thinks this is THE reason for her being here. No one would take her so she leaves on her own. I wasn’t sure I liked her taking such a big risk while she’s pregnant but soon, I think I understood where she stood. It’d make any girl desperate if she thinks the love of her life is in grave danger. Liam and Robley were probably expecting something like this, knowing how headstrong she can be. So Alethia finds them catching up on her soon enough. She requests Liam to work with her so that he can save Mairen in time before her father kills her (a part of her vision that shook Liam and enraged Malcolm). It was a bloody scene, full of death and misery, an unbelievable experience no doubt. MacKintosh warriors were ready for the Comyns and it seemed like they were winning... until Malcolm stumbles and Comyn’s son has the upper hand. Alethia was ready too, watching stealthily from the gallery, ready with her bow and arrows. She ultimately saves Malcolm’s life. When Malcolm finds out, he’s enraged because all he could think of was the danger she was in, that he was about to lose her and their baby because Comyn laird follows her to the gallery and tries to kill her when Malcolm and his men burst in to save her.
On their way home, Alethia learns from Malcolm’s talks with his men about Giselle being seen around the town. Mairen is taken in the MacKintosh clan with Malcolm and his family’s support. I thought this is the final conflict which has been solved successfully. But William was yet to return, as well as Liam’s parents. And when they do, Malcolm finds himself in another kind of trouble, something that hurts Alethia so much that she decides to ran and find Giselle, then map out her next step so that Malcolm doesn’t do anything rash and disappoint his clan’s expectations. The scene where Alethia introduces them to the wonders of the future (aka her laptop, among other things) was an amazing scene. It leaves you wondering about the possibilities. The final revelation regarding Alethia’s connection to Hunter and the Fae surprised me quite a bit because that thought didn’t even cross my mind. Giselle, unsurprisingly, is the center of it all. I was pretty happy that Alethia chose to stay here with Malcolm’s clan instead of returning to the 21st century.
Overall, a very entertaining read. Definitely recommend if you love highlander and time travel romances. 4.25 stars. The next book is Robley’s story, who, it seems, has gotten deep with Giselle as well (no, I don’t mean the way you’re thinking). Can’t wait to find out what he’s up to!
This ARC was provided to me by Montlake Romance via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.