It’s not often that I read a book that keeps me chuckling from beginning to end. Kiss of the Highlander, by Karen Marie Moning, was just such a book, I am happy to report. Ms. Moning has exploited the humorous aspects of time travel skillfully, and the result is a delightful reading experience.
Like her parents, Gwen Cassidy trained as a physicist. In reaction to her overly intellectual parents, Gwen came to equate a scientific career with emotional distance, dropped out of her Ph. D. program, and became an insurance adjuster. Not surprisingly, saying No to insurance claimants did not turn out to be any more personally satisfying than the pursuit of science. In desperation, Gwen signed up for an economy tour of Scotland, only to discover that all the other tourists were senior citizens. None of them are candidates for the “cherry picker” this 25-year-old virgin was seeking.
Unable to cope with the sympathy and interest of the senior citizens any more, Gwen leaves the group for the afternoon to go off hiking by herself in the hills above Loch Ness. When she stops to rest, she accidentally knocks her backpack into a deep crevice. I was impressed when Gwen decided to climb down 25 or 30 feet to retrieve the backpack that, she thought, contained the best part of her life. I was unsurprised when she slipped and fell in the attempt. In my experience, most sorts of derring do end up in disaster.
Gwen was luckier than I usually am. Instead of wrenched shoulders and bruised knees, Gwen broke through the roof of a cave and ended up straddling the unconscious, nude, very male body of Drustan MacKeltar. Drustan is the laird of Castle Keltar and a Druid from the only family of full Druids still extant in the year 1518.
Drustan has been bespelled in the cave for 500 years, the victim of a muddled old woman and her gypsy accomplices. Gwen’s descent awakens him. At first he believes he has been asleep only a month, but once he sees cars and telephone poles and neon signs, he guesses that much more time has elapsed. He believes that if he can just get back to the standing stones at Castle Keltar by the September equinox, two days hence, he can travel back to his own time. He needs to do so urgently because he also believes he is the only surviving Keltar-Druid capable of perpetuating his line and transmitting the Keltar knowledge of the standing stones to future generations.
All this sounds very serious and a bit desperate but, as handled by Ms. Moning, what it is, is funny. Drustan’s reactions to shopping, modern clothing, and Gwen’s feisty attitude are inherently entertaining, as is Gwen’s quandary when she discovers that it is not easy to override her 25 years’ worth of inhibitions when she stumbles over - or, in this case, falls on - her prototypical cherry picker.
Like most time travel romances, Kiss of the Highlander is essentially a one-joke book, but Ms. Moning threw in enough twists and turns in the plot to keep me wondering what happened next. Most of all, though, I enjoyed Gwen’s and Drustan’s reactions to their strange experiences. Almost unfailingly, whenever Ms. Moning let me inside their heads…and she did so frequently…I found myself smiling. Gwen, in particular, looks at life through an original and witty prism. Drustan’s thought patterns were more conventional and serious, but the uniqueness of his experience and his growing fascination with his “wee, sweet” Gwen provided plenty of amusement. I recommend Kiss of the Highlander for that next time when you are looking for a little uncomplicated escapism.
--Nancy J. Silberstein