Author: Eden Winters
Genre: Historical/contemporary m/m romance
Length: Novel (259 pages)
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie
IN A NUTSHELL: A story of the love between Aillil and Malcolm that transcends time and place.
>>>note: The Blurb for this story contains spoilers<<<
The English are an evil not to be tolerated, or so Aillil Callaghan believes, and Malcolm Byerly, the Kentish tutor Aillil’s father brings to the Highlands to teach his younger brothers, is no exception. Their affection for the boys and a shared passion for the violin bring the two men together, and scarlet fever tears them apart. When a Druid priestess offers her aid, grief-stricken Aillil vanishes into legend, to be handed down from one generation to the next.
Over two centuries later, violinist Billy Byerly’s arrival at Callaghan Castle for a concert feels like coming home. An old man presents him with a strangely familiar violin, and from its strings he draws melodies he doesn’t remember learning. Billy doesn’t believe in ghosts, but if the tales of the Lost Laird aren’t true, then why does he dream of a dark-haired, kilted Highlander? And why is he haunted by the strains of a phantom violin? Two violins, one love. How many lifetimes?
Wave sent me this book for review and I read it “cold,” that is, not having any prior knowledge of the story. I am glad I didn’t read the blurb because it gives away much of the plot. I started off thinking this was a straight historical fiction story but at the two-thirds point, the story moves into the present. Legends and loves from the past become the basis for the conclusion of the story.
Overall, the book was entertaining although I do have a few little quibbles which I will mention later in this review.
The story opens with a prologue of sorts that introduces us to Malcolm Byerly, a violinist and young man who knows he likes men and realizes that fact could get him arrested and hanged. He struggles with this desire and after falling for a friend, but not acting on his feelings, decides it would be best to leave England. He accepts a post as a tutor at Castle Callaghan in the Scottish Highlands. The time is 1758, after the Battle of Culloden. The Scots are struggling with rebuilding their lives under British rule. Some have allied themselves with their former enemies; others, such as Aillil Callaghan are defiant and continue to speak Gaelic, wear kilts, and play the bagpipes, even those all those activities have been outlawed. He is also gay which is just as illegal in Scotland as it is in England. All these factors make Aillil a very colorful and charismatic character and Malcolm, although he tries not to give in to his feelings, eventually does.
Aillil has some talent as a musician and this is bridge that eventually brings he and Malcolm together, both in the past and the future. In the historic part of the story they are able to consummate their love but then illness pulls them apart. Grief-stricken Aillil turns to a Druid ritual as a way to mend his broken heart.
The story then moves to the present with two brief historic interludes in 1846 and 1915.
In the present, we once again have a red-haired, green eyed violinist, a prescient manager, and a castle full of mysteries and ghosts. Even though we are in Scotland in the current time, it still feels very old-fashioned and Billy feels the pull of the legends that surround him. His violin playing evokes strong memories and…you can guess what comes next.
Overall, this was a good story and I enjoyed the mix of past and present. However, a major problem, for me, was the chronological narrative–once I hit the present time and was introduced to the main character, I knew exactly where the story was going. There was no mystery at all–it was just a matter of getting to the end point. Personally, I think the story could have been told more effectively by going back and forth from present to past, as Donald Hardy did in Lover’s Knot. At the same time, I know some readers don’t like that back and forth type of narrative and might prefer the way this book is structured. This is a case where I think it really depends on reader taste as to whether the way the storyline is presented is effective.
The characters of Malcolm and Aillil were appealing, especially Aillil with this grand gestures, raven black hair and love of his country and people. While they shared a grand love that could supposedly withstand anything, I did not feel their passion jumping off the page and that was a disappointment. In fact, I’m not sure we ever had a declaration of love between the two characters. Aillil told his father he loved Malcolm and Malcolm admitted it to himself, but they never said it to each other. This is a romance…the “I love you” moment is crucial and I felt a little bit cheated as a reader.
There were a few plot lines that never really went anywhere and I wasn’t sure why they were included. Maybe to introduce some personality elements of the characters but for me, I felt like they were loose ends that were left hanging.
All in all, I can recommend this book as a good story that kept me entertained for its entire length. The things that were problems were fairly minor and like I said, many readers might not care as much as I. I am not trying to be particularly picky, just showing what worked and what didn’t quite make it for me. I would suggest, if you like historical fiction, give this one a try. If you aren’t quite sure about historical fiction, you still might want to give this one a go because the last third of the book is contemporary and puts the historical part in context. And–if you are a fan of this author then–you will definitely enjoy this.