|It's always a bit disconcerting coming in at the end of a trilogy.
Especially a paranormal trilogy where the rules have already been set, the characters established and you're two steps behind, struggling to catch up. Fortunately, Tess Mallory has a deft hand with exposition. Readers new to the Highland series will have no problem keeping up with this enchanting tale, which stands alone nicely.
The story starts in present day Texas with twenty-first century doctor
Samantha Riley deftly avoiding Duncan Campbell. The misplaced sixteenth century Scot may be her father's choice for a son-in-law, but he's definitely not her type. Her best friends may have found love through the ages - and the magic of time travel, but she doesn't need any supernatural matchmaking or Duncan for that matter.
Duncan isn't too fond of Samantha either. The girl seems cold, an ice queen who has no real feelings for her family or friends. No man in his right mind would want such a hateful, disdainful, masculine woman, no matter how attractive she is. Instead of dwelling on their one-night stand, he devotes his energy into going back to fix the past and maybe, just maybe go home someday.
Everything changes when Samantha and Duncan are mistakenly transported back to ninth century Scotland. Self-reliant Samantha suddenly has her world fall out from underneath her. She's a foreigner in both time and place, unable to speak the language or understand the culture. She's completely reliant on Duncan, who strangely enough is telling people she's Brigid, Queen of the Sidhe - the fairies. In this time of magical crystals, dragons and elves, she quickly realizes his lie is the only thing keeping them alive.
As the two grow closer, Samantha realizes Duncan's life may be a lot more complicated than it seems. His fascination with her handmaiden taunts her; why is he sharing her bed when the young girl seems to be the one in his heart? When the time comes, if the time comes, can she count on Duncan to return with her or is his future in the past?
Despite sounding complicated, Mallory makes the whole time-travel issue
simple. She doesn't inject a lot of pseudo-science into it. It's simply magic, ancient magic suited to the time frame in which most of the book is set, in fact. It's refreshing because the main characters don't spend half of the plot trying to convince or explain. Mallory isn't skipping on plot development here; rather she is using the customs of the times to suit her story. And it suits it well.
Mallory doesn't just excel at setting a good scene; she creates exemplary character development with Samantha. She starts out with a character who, due to her mother's death and father's autocratic ways, has shut herself down. Sam operates purely in defensive mode, never allowing herself to be vulnerable. By taking Sam out of her element, Mallory forces the character to grow in a realistic manner. While never weak or spineless, Samantha is forced to learn how to rely on other people.
Although most of the book was fast moving and enthralling, Highland Magic does drag a bit in the last half. It seemed that so often the story was close to a conclusion or revelation and suddenly some contrived plot point dragged it down again. This is most evident in the story of Talamar, the handmaiden. While it is a central point of the story, I felt Mallory could have safely wrapped it up a bit earlier, and with fewer twists and turns.
Despite the lull, Highland Magic is an enchanting story with a strong plot, sharp wit and great lead characters. Whether you've read Highland Fling and Highland Dream or not, this is a must read for any fan of time travel romances.