The Saint
by Monica McCarty
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG13) ISBN 978-0-345-52840-7
****
The Saint is the fifth installment in Monica McCarty's Highland Guard series, a book that I'm sure many of her fans have been anticipating, and it's also a lovely story all on its own.

Magnus "Saint" McKay is a member of The Bruce's elite secret army in 1308 Scotland. He's a tall and fearsome warrior, striking fear in the hearts of those he battles. The reader is lucky to meet him slightly earlier in 1305, where his younger self is still a warrior but he's tempered by the tenderness and love he feels for a young woman: Helen de Moray.

Magnus and Helen have met secretly and briefly for the past few years at the Highland Games. Their short interludes have had to be clandestine since the McKays and the Sutherlands have been feuding for years. Magnus knows that he shouldn't be meeting with the Sutherland's youngest daughter, but he can't help himself, he's in love. Magnus proposes marriage to Helen at the 1305 Highland Games, but her very angry older brother Kenneth happens upon them. He reminds young Helen of their ill father, the family's feud, and her responsibilities as a Sutherland. Helen tells Magnus she can't marry him, as she mulls over the fact that he's never declared his love or any willingness to try to accept her family.

Now we jump to 1308 Scotland and Helen's family has arranged to marry her to William Gordon. Unfortunately for all, William is Magnus' best friend and partner. While Magnus and Helen haven't seen each other in years, his presence at the wedding has been called for as a member of the elite Highland Guard. Magnus intends to get through the day, trying to crush his pain and get rid of his thoughts of Helen at last. Just as the couple has retired to bed, there is an urgent matter for the Guard to take care of, and William leaves Helen alone to go with his warrior brothers. William dies mysteriously that night in the fracas, leaving Helen a widow.

Magnus is unwillingly dragged back into Helen's life by an assignment to protect the King as he travels, and her position as a widow gives Helen a new chance to try to win Magnus back, to unravel the lies that surround them and try to douse the family feud that has dictated their lives. Magnus fights back, impassive and mean, as he has several secrets that he doesn't want Helen to know, and to get any closer to her would be to greatly endanger them both.

The Saint is a wonderful historical romance, filled with action, love, regret, betrayal and passion.

Magnus is a strong hero, emotional underneath his formidable exterior, and McCarty writes him with the perfect blend of compassion and wit. It's hard not to long for your own Highland warrior when Magnus practically leaps off the page, he's so real.

Helen is a great foil for Magnus. While we meet her as a fairly young and vulnerable young woman, she matures and strengthens quickly as the story goes. Helen retains a hint of her former vulnerability and self doubt, but it serves to make her even more understandable to the reader. She becomes so brave and self sufficient that it shocks everyone around her. Helen's also freely passionate, intensely focused on what she wants with Magnus. So much so that she puts her emotions and wants clearly out for him to smash them, as a reader I wanted to wince when she opened herself so, but I can also identify with her clearly.

Helen's brother Kenneth could have easily been a cardboard bad guy in this tale, but McCarty lets him grow and flourish in the background of this tale, his maturity and his own hidden love story that we get in counterpoint to Helen's is wonderful, and heart-rending.

The action, constant battles and intrigues involving the Highland Guard and the King keep the track of the story moving fairly quickly, and the historical Scottish detail that surrounds our tale is lovely.

My only complaint about The Saint is that after our introduction, the beginning took too long to ramp up my interest, and I nearly put the book down in the lull. I'm glad I didn't because from after the slow start, it was a great read.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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