Saturday, 26 March 2011

Here Burns My Candle - Liz Curtis Higgs

Life in Scotland during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was not easy for anyone, least not the noble Kerr family in the capital city of Edinburgh. Elisabeth Kerr cannot hide her Jacobite sympathies from her family, and slowly her husband begins to share her sentiments. But when her beloved Donald and his younger brother Andrew decide to fight for the royal pretender, denouncing their loyalties to King George, Elisabeth can’t help but question whether she should have kept her feelings to herself.

Her emotions are torn even further when she discovers that the rumours about her husband’s infidelity were more than just idle gossip. This news comes at the worst possible time, and Elisabeth resigns herself to waiting until her husband’s homecoming to work on restoring her marriage. But will the Kerr men ever return from battle?

As she waits for news of her husband, Elisabeth finds herself drawing closer to Marjory, the mother-in-law who had previously scorned her for being a Lowlander. Outlawed for their allegiance to the bonny prince and lost without their men, these two women learn to find trust in each other as their position in society and their beloved country begin to crumble around them.

No review I write of this book will ever be able to do it justice. There are some books that I find myself so enamoured with that I cannot even begin to think of any flaws in them, and Here Burns My Candle is one of these. Having considered it, I could understand that those of a sensitive nature may be upset by the discussions of adultery and mistresses. And non-Christians may find Elisabeth’s conversion to Christianity uninteresting and feel the need to skip over these sections.

And I must confess, I am of a bit of an advantage when it comes to understanding the Scottish dialect in this novel, having grown up in area of Scotland where most of the residents speak with a rather broad Scots accent. (Although I will admit that my own accent is incredibly neutral, causing all of my foreign friends to complain that I don’t sound “Scottish enough”. So while I can decipher old Scots, I couldn’t pronounce it to save my life. Please don’t ask me to read this book out loud!) Fortunately, the author has included a wonderful glossary at the back of this book. If you have not yet discovered this, I’d recommend searching for it now! Even I had to use it a couple of times. The idea of having to look up a glossary in a novel might seem strange at first, but I know that most Amish novels now include these so the idea is not entirely new. But I can sympathise with those who are put off this novel due to the dialect.

That said, I honestly cannot think of one aspect of this novel that I did not love. I was cautious at the idea of reading a book set in my own country, as my one previous experience with a Scottish historical romance wasn’t particularly inspiring. Eighteenth-century Scottish history isn’t a period that I’m overly educated in, and I’m fairly certain that the Jacobite Rebellion was covered in a one-hour lecture in my first year of university. Thus, I’m certain that there are American readers who came to this book more read on this subject than myself! Like many, I started this book rather blind, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

I was immediately taken in by the strong, yet somehow vulnerable character of Elisabeth, who was treated like an equal by her husband yet looked down on by his family. While she stood up to her mother- and sister-in-law, she was scared at confronting her husband about the rumours she’d heard whispered about him. As would any woman, Elisabeth tried to deny any thoughts of her husband’s infidelity, yet on another level she believed them enough that she didn’t want to risk confronting him for an answer. It was truly heartbreaking to witness Elisabeth’s internal turmoil and to wait for the moment when she would learn the truth. And while you wouldn’t think that Donald could be a terribly endearing character, I did wish that he would get the chance to reform himself and cut the ties to his mistresses.

But this is Edinburgh during the Jacobite Rebellion, and I knew that the outcome of Elisabeth and Donald’s story wouldn’t be a pleasant one. Those who recall the Biblical story of Ruth will also know how this plot will pan out, since both Here Burns My Candle and its sequel, Mine is the Night, are based upon the Book of Ruth.

Unlike a lot of the historical novels I read, the premise of this one was not a boy-girl romance, but the growth of a relationship between mother- and daughter-in-law. Marjory was originally a rather unlikable character, the typical matriarch who cared more about the appearance of her family than her relationships within it. But when her sons left to fight in battle, she found herself alone with her two daughters-in-law, and it was Highlander Elisabeth, not the more respectable Janet, in whom she found comfort. It was wonderful to watch the growing relationship between these two women, despite the bleakness of their situation, and the reformation of Marjory’s personality. Their friendship also helps Elisabeth to draw closer to God, a figure who had been entirely absent in her upbringing but in whom she finds comfort after her husband’s departure. Mother- and daughter-in-law relations are not often the subject of novels, but they are a topic that most women will be able to relate to.

While I felt that the conclusion to this novel was largely optimistic, I’m also very glad that I have the sequel sitting in front of me! The Kerr saga is captivating, and I’m now a convert to the works of Liz Curtis Higgs and historical fiction of my homeland. It was so refreshing to read a novel not focused on romance, but the relationships between women in an extended family. If you’re a historical fiction fan and have not yet discovered Liz Curtis Higgs, I highly recommend starting with Here Burns My Candle.

Review title provided courtesy of Waterbrook Press.

This review is also posted at The Christian Manifesto, who will be featuring a giveaway of this book in the near future. Keep checking back for more information!

No comments:

Post a Comment