Son of the Morning, by Linda Howard

3 Jan

Son of the MorningSon of the Morning, by Linda Howard

Another blast from the past, this classic was published in 1997, and has since polarized romance readers. A mix of romance, suspense and time travel, it boasts one of the most compelling heroines I’ve read. Grace St John’s journey from sheltered academic to self-reliant avenger is wonderful to witness. As Karen Scott has said, Grace is both heroine and hero for a really good chunk of the novel, and while this is one of the best things of the book for me, many a rabid erm, devoted romance reader find it most objectionable that Grace and Niall do not meet for a good two thirds of the story. If this sort of thing seriously bothers you, then frankly, this is not the book for you.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. First, the back cover blurb (and I do believe this is the original paperback edition, by the by):

A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St John never imagined that a cache of fragile, old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the intriguing legend of the Knights of the Templar—long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power—Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a celebrated warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him—and to save herself—she must go back in time.

Summoning the magic of an arcane ritual, Grace steps back to the barren hills of 14th-century Scotland, enduring the perils of an untamed land to confront Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. Driven by a mix of fear and passion, Grace enlists this brazen knight to join her in a modern-day search for a killer. In their quest to protect a timeless secret, they uncover a love for all time—and a deadly duel of honor that risks everything they have.

As usual, the blurb is inaccurate on a number of points. Grace does not find the documents, she has been hired to translate them. Neither does she decipher the legend of the Templars, which has thrived pretty much non-stop since the bloody dissolution of the order, well over seven hundred years ago.

The novel has two beginnings. The prologue, some ten pages long, is a set up for both the mystery Grace is pursuing in 1996, and for the hero’s storyline, back in the early 1300s. Grace’s story begins in the first chapter, slowly setting up her character and the circumstances of her life for a dozen pages, and then dropping a piano on her that sends her running for her life.  In possession only of the clothes on her back, her laptop and modem, and copies of the documents she was hired to translate, Grace doesn’t have any of the skills necessary to survive on the run. What she does have, in spades, is determination and will, along with a deep seated curiosity and the need to understand the reasons for, and to avenge, the murders of her beloved husband and brother.

For modern readers, I feel I must remind you that 1996 was a time where cell phones were not a required accessory, but rather an expensive gadget considered by most a status symbol rather than a necessary tool for everyday living. Laptops at the time were big, heavy and generally only a fraction as powerful as desktop computers. Fake identities required—and succeeded—mostly on physical documents, as today’s all encompassing digital records were barely in their infancy at the time.

Given all that, Grace’s struggles to survive, to hide, to carve by herself a space—mental and physical–of enough security to work to solve the puzzle of the murders and, indeed, the reason she could even be a target, are incredibly compelling. For someone as sheltered as she, someone who has never before encountered any level of violence in her life, survival on the run is an incredible challenge. It is absorbing to see Grace adapt to her new life, stripped from everything but the drive to survive, and then to see her thrive and, finally, succeed.

There are a number of wonderful things Ms Howard does with this novel, and one of them is showing us, throughout the book, that Grace was happy and loved in her marriage, that her husband was indeed deserving of her love and that he returned it wholeheartedly. Further, Grace is not apologetic about the fact that she loves sex, that she misses Ford also because she misses sex—is so not one of the many virgin/unhappy/abused/betrayed widows we so often see in romance novels.

Another thing is the way Ms Howard connects the protagonists’ lives through the novel, even as she focuses on Grace’s evolution. There are dreams, you see, that both Grace and Niall have—some of them are, predictable, sexual in nature. What is interesting is that there are two kinds of dreams, some memories of things past/future (yes, the time travel makes this a bit complicated) and some are shared in the present.

So while it’s true that Niall and Grace do not physically meet until about you hit the two thirds mark, they are not truly strangers, and the sexual tension is already high enough to sizzle.

I love that a lot of the questions that nag at the reader through the first half of the book—many of which nag Grace as well, by the by—are explained in ways that make absolute sense in the context of the story. I love the attention paid to some of what could be jarring details in both the modern and historical time streams.

And I just love that Ms Howard can make me cry—still, after countless re-reads—during certain key scenes.

I cannot elaborate more about what I love most about the novel without spoilers, so I’ll finish by saying that the mayor flaw in the story is in the villain, whose motivation doesn’t make sense, which in turn makes him the least believable of all the characters—including some who appear for only a scene or two.

Son of the Morning gets a 9.50 out of 10 from me.

Oh, and for those who would like a non-romance reader take on the book, this is, for many reasons, one of my favorite reviews of this book.

One Response to “Son of the Morning, by Linda Howard”

  1. heavenlea27 04/01/2014 at 7:24 AM #

    Great review – so much so you have piqued my interest 🙂 Off to check out the bookstores.

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