Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Child of the Mist: 16th Century Scotland

Kathleen Morgan’s novel Child of the Mist, recently republished by Baker Books as the first in a new series "These Highland Hills," tells an enchanting story about characters in 16th century Scotland. It is the classic era of Highlander clans, a time of medieval chivalry and clan feuds, of castles and witch burnings.

In 1564, Eighteen-year-old Anne McGregor, daughter of the McGregor clan leader, finds she must make the peace with the stronger Campbell clan – by her handfasting to the Campbell clan’s future leader, Niall Campbell, for a year. Anne is also a healer, learned in the methods of herbal remedies – a skill which has earned her the title "Witch of Glenstrae." Though spirited and proud of her McGregor clan, Anne reluctantly submits to the betrothal -- but soon faces the Campbell clan’s hostility toward her. Complicating matters further is an unknown traitor who will do all in his power to prevent Niall from taking his rightful place as the next "tanist," clan leader. Throughout the next few months, Niall and Anne discover their love for each other, amidst the many trials from within and without.

Kathleen Morgan does an excellent job of blending romantic storytelling with the rich historical background of Scotland. Through this story we see the day-to-day life of those in the Castle, with characters from the leading family as well as the servants, and even the customs of the day. (Contrary to popular opinion -- due to e-mail "urban legends" – people in the 16th century did bathe regularly.) The author shows also her knowledge of herbal remedies, and through some interesting plots incorporates this aspect of medieval life. On one point, concerning the use of CPR to revive infants, the story perhaps changes the facts – such a technique was apparently considered common practice among midwives in Europe, even long before this story takes place – but maybe the Scottish clansmen were behind the times.

Yet the story is clearly the main focus here, with strong, vibrant characters who grow through their situations. Stubborn, pig-headed Niall Campbell is constantly dogged by suspicion and mistrust, always considering the others’ motives, even twisting around the apparent actions into those of a scheming traitor. He meets his match, though, in Anne, and learns to love again, another love after his now-deceased first wife. Anne, for all her fiery independence, has her good traits as well, including ardent loyalty, the desire to please God by helping others around her – and then giving her loyalty and devotion to Niall.

Child of the Mist has been recently republished by Baker Books, as the first in the new series "These Highland Hills." The author’s comments at the end of this publication (2005) indicate that a follow-up book may soon come. I eagerly await such a sequel, a follow-up with Iain perhaps. Regardless, Child of the Mist is an excellent story, warming to the heart and soul through the wonderful characters and their experiences.

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