I haven’t read Michelle Willingham’s entire backlist yet, but I’m at the point where I’m getting pretty darn close. So I feel fairly confident when I say that her latest Harlequin Historical, and the last in her long-running MacEgan Brothers series, is possibly her best work to date. That being said, it’s a book that isn’t going to appeal to every reader thanks to it’s very heavy subject matter and tone.
The back cover copy is, I suspect, purposely vague but rest assured my plot description pretty much adheres to the first chapter. Trahern MacEgan makes his living as a bard/storyteller. However when he learns that his betrothed is killed when Vikings raid her village, he swears vengeance. He’s tracking the killers when a young girl, barely 13, stumbles into his camp. She recognizes him, and begs him to help her sister, who she fears is dying in a nearby hunting shelter.
Morren O’Reilly lived in the same village as Trahern’s beloved. She survived, but was the victim of a brutal gang rape. She’s miscarrying the baby that was the result of the events of that terrible night, and her sister, not knowing of the pregnancy, runs for help and fetches Trahern. What follows is Trahern’s promise to protect Morren and find the men responsible for the raid. In turn, Trahern needs Morren’s help in identifying them.
The only way to describe this story is heavy. It’s a heavy read featuring two deeply emotionally damaged people who have lived through unspeakable pain. Even though the author does not write these events in graphic detail, the mere suggestion of what Morren endured is beyond horrifying and haunting. From the time I started the first chapter, to the time I finished the last, I was stuck on an emotional roller coaster, feeling the pain that these two people felt, and marveled that they were still able to put one foot in front of the other. Even the secondary character of Morren’s sister isn’t spared from this angst, having witnessed exactly what happened to her sister.
Besides the internal conflict, there’s the mystery of who was behind the raid. This is largely what propels the plot forward, and is what literally sucks all the air out of the room when the Big Reveal happens. When a story can floor me like that, and in a good way, I know I’m reading something special. Ironically, this is actually when the story stumbles a bit for me. As amazing as the resolution to the mystery was, I felt that the heroine started to behave a bit out of character. Especially when compared to what had been motivating her throughout the entire story.
That said, this blip on the radar wasn’t enough to diminish how accomplished I thought this book was. It’s certainly not going to be a book for everybody. It’s dark, heavy, and emotionally-gutting. Certainly those attributes can, and in this case do, make the happy ending all the more sweeter and rewarding, but it’s still a tough read. I was exhausted after the first chapter, and that feeling stayed with me for a long time. It’s a departure in tone from previous books I’ve read by this author, and it’s a risk that I largely think she pulls off. Yes, I had quibbles, but not enough to overshadow all that is so good.
An Irish warrior with a thirst for revenge…
Trahern MacEgan—his body is honed for fighting, his soul is black and tortured. Women want to tame him, but he has loved once, and now is lost.
A woman who has suffered in silence…
Morren Ó Reilly—she has known pain and shame, but holds her head high, even though she shrinks from a man’s touch.
Their passionate redemption
Can Morren be the light to Trahern’s darkness, and can she be made whole again by her surrender?
Other books in this series: