A guest review by Jenre
Summary Review: A Highly recommended character based romance which focuses on the recovery from grief and the importance of setting aside past hurts.
One year ago, before Fate took a wrecking ball to his life, Nichol was happily working on his doctorate in linguistics. Now he’s hip deep in sheep, mud and collies. His late brother and mother had been well suited to life on Seacliff Farm. Nichol? Not so much.
As lambing season progresses in the teeth of an icy north wind, the last straw is the intruder Nichol catches in the barn. He says his name is Cam, and he’s on the run from a Glasgow gang. Something about the young man’s tired resignation touches Nichol deeply, and instead of giving him the business end of a shotgun, he offers Cam a blanket and a place to stay.
Somehow, Cam quickly charms his way through Nichol’s defenses and into his heart. Even his grandfather takes to the cheeky city boy, whose hard work and good head for figures help set the farm back on its feet.
As the cold Scottish springtime melts into summer, Nichol finds himself falling in love. When tragedy strikes, Cam’s resolutely held secret is finally revealed and Nichol must face the truth. He’s given his heart away, and it’s time to pay the price.
This is the first longer book I’ve read by Harper Fox, although I read the two novellas she’s written for Carina Press Christmas anthologies. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to read something by her, other than the usual excuse of too many great authors and not enough time, but after reading this one I think I need to catch up with her back list because this book was just superb.
The story begins with a cold, wet winter on Arran, which to those who don’t know is a Scottish island off the west coast of Scotland. Nichol is the grandson and only living relative of Harry, and up until a year ago he was at Edinburgh university doing a phd in linguistics. The death of his mother and brother put an end to that and now he is bitterly struggling with being forced to live on the family farm, eking out a desperate living from the sheep and land, with his grandfather who resents him for living when his brother, who was much better suited to farming, has died. Into this situation comes Cam, on the run from goodness knows what and needing a place to hide out. Nichol doesn’t have it in him to turn away a stray and it isn’t long before Cam has wormed his way into the hearts of Nichol, Harry and, it seems, even the usually bleak Arran weather.
I’m not joking about the weather. The author uses rather a splendid form of pathetic fallacy in that the feelings of the character of Nichol is often reflected in the weather. At the beginning the weather is cold and bitter, but when Cam arrives to brighten up Nichol’s life, so the weather turns to become one of the most glorious spring and summer in years. Later there’s arguments amid storms and tempests and cold rain to signify withdrawal and sadness. Very clever.
As well as that rather nify piece of narrative effect, the story is beautifully put together. It’s very much a character based tale, with much of the action confined to specific locations on the island. As such, it manages to reflect the rather insular location of island life. Most of the book concentrates on the three main characters of Nichol, Cam and Harry with only a handful of other islanders given much page space. I found that this worked well because the focus of the story is mostly inward, focusing on Nichol’s slow recovery from the events of a year before and his prickly relationship with his Grandfather, rather than lots of action scenes – although there are some action scenes scattered through the book. The confining narrative still managed to encompass the sweep of nature on the island, and I loved that the setting was so evocative in its descriptions of various locations. I really felt I was on that island, with the sights and smells, the wildlife and beauty all accurately described through the nostalgic and biased view of Nichol. Even now, a few days after reading I can see some of the locations in my mind, despite never visiting Arran (I only got as far as Mull and Iona on my discovery of the western Isles).
This is essentially a story about recovery, and to some extent all three characters have to go through some sort of recovery. We only get Nichol’s viewpoint and so his feelings are the most clearly described. His bitter and resentful feelings over the loss of his academic dreams, his anger over the loss of his family and the hurt and bewilderment at the harsh way his Grandfather treats him comes across strongly at the beginning of the book. It was truly delightful to see what a catalyst Cam became for Nichol and how his presence and gentle nature changed Nichol’s perspective, helped him begin to grieve and also provided some much needed practical help. Harry is more of a dark horse, but he changes too as Cameron’s brightness affects the dark person he has become. Cam is the bridge between Grandfather and Grandson until their own bridges are mended and they gain their own reconciliation (even if it is a shaky one). I loved how Nichol and Harry were so alike in their stubborness and yet very different too. Cam is recovering from the things that happened to him in Glasgow, and it’s through Nichol’s persistence and stubborn determination to love Cam no matter what that helps Cam recover too. I was completely drawn into the connections between these three men, absorbed by their drama so much that the pages flew past.
I can honestly say I don’t really have anything negative to say about this book. The focus is very inward on character and relationships, and we do spend an awful lot of time in Nichol’s head as he at first grumbles, then debates and decides, then grows happier. I love books that have a character based focus, but maybe readers who like more changes in setting, pace, action and characters may not find this book to their taste. It’s a slow burner, but I found it utterly enthralling.
One last thing, although I’m well aware this is a lengthy review. I really liked how the author managed to show the Scottish setting through the dialect of the characters. She got the balance just right between imitating the lilt and cadence of the scottish accent, without resorting to obvious ‘see you Jimmy’ cliche. I could hear the accent very clearly in my head and yet it was also easy on the eye to read. Marvellous.
As you may have already guessed, for me this was a terrific book. I was captured at page one and couldn’t bear to put it down. It was m/m romance writing at its best and I can’t recommend it highly enough.