Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: The Ghost (Highland Guard #12)

The Ghost (Highland Guard #12)

by Monica McCarty 


Joan Comyn swore allegiance to Robert the Bruce the day she witnessed England’s barbarous king torturing her famous mother, Scot patriot Bella MacDuff. Now the mysterious beauty slips into men’s hearts like a specter and entices England’s most illustrious barons to unwittingly divulge their secrets, then shares them with her king. Known only as the Ghost even among her Highland Guard brethren, Joan has become the most wanted spy in England.
The man determined to uncover her identity poses her biggest threat yet. Alex Seton once stood with Bruce but now fights for the enemy. Though Joan knows she must avoid the handsome warrior or risk discovery, his knightly chivalry touches a place in her long since buried. When his suspicions grow apparent, Joan realizes she must do everything in her power to stop Alex from revealing her mission and convince the powerful fighter to join forces with the Highland Guard once more. But as the ultimate battle in the great war approaches, will Alex chose love or honor?
Themes:  Historical, Scotland, series finale
Rating: 4.75 stars
Heat Rating: 
The war that shaped a nation and the amazing men that shaped the war have finally come to the final battle, one that will be won or lost because of the love of one woman for her country and the man that she never should have fallen for. I have followed this series since the very beginning, watching men come to terms with their role in an army of marauders, barbarians, and heroes and I have loved every minute of it.  Seeing the end in sight made me delay reading Seton and Joan’s book for as long as I possibly could, but sooner or later I knew I would have to see if Dragon could unmask the Ghost and, when he did, if he would find a way to keep them both alive.  McCarty is an author that puts so much time and effort into her research that you often feel like you are living the lives of historic characters as if it was factual history.  Her skill with character building in an historic setting is one that is impossible to replicate.  So many authors of contemporary and especially paranormal romance get the benefit of being able to create their very own worlds for their characters, but historical authors have that extra requirement of blending their fiction with fact and only the truly great authors—which Monica definitely is—are able to get the job done.  So even though it was sad to see the end of the Highland Guard series I was anxious to see how the war ended and how each of the Guardsmen grew into the leaders they were always meant to be.  And of course I know that whatever Monica does next will be no less exciting and I am looking forward to reading it—though I have no doubt I will be rereading this series at some point in the not too distant future.
Alex “Dragon” Seton has been a crucial character in this series from the beginning, first training with the Highland Guards and then switching sides to join the English in the war, though he never switched sides in his heart.  With his loyalties being questioned by both sides, Alex has had to walk a fine line for years as he worked to bring about a peaceful ending to the war.  When he arrives at the border with the lead charge for the English King who is shortly coming behind him Alex is set on getting the leaders of the English army to convince the king that a truce is the answer instead of direct battle.  Joan “Ghost” Comyn knows that she should stay away from Alex, her identity as the spy for Bruce’s Guardsmen the greatest secret of the war and she cannot give herself away this close to helping her king to win the war.  As the two find themselves circling one another the danger increases exponentially the closer they each come to the truth of their hearts;  Alex falls hard for Joan, but when he finds out her secret their loyalties to opposing sides of the war is destined to come between them, even though Alex is determined he will have her despite that.  In the end it comes down to a single question for these two lovers—can they save a nation and free it from tyranny while still finding a way to preserve their love and their lives?
I LOVED finally seeing Joan all grown up and having come into her own as both a beautiful young lady and as a talented spy for the crown that she serves.  Women are so seldom given such an active role in an historical romance, but as with previous characters in this series, Joan is a take no prisoners type of woman and there is no way she will sit on the sidelines of war that will shape her future as much as any man’s.  Joan was a great characters, even as I worried for this risks she took with her safety and her sanity, and I was rooting for her in every task she undertook.  The trauma of her past has led her to take an active role in shaping her future instead of scaring her into submission like it would so many other women of her time and station.  She’s obviously intelligent, cunning, and courageous but even more she is compassionate, empathetic and loving to those that truly earn her respect and regard.  Seeing her in action as a spy was interesting as I never really gave much thought to how a woman could keep herself safe and uncorrupted while playing the dangerous spy game, especially in a world where women were simple chattel to be traded at the worst and treasures to be shelved and protected as best.  I would love to see other characters like Joan in the future and can definitely say I want to be like her when I grow up.
Alex, oh Alex, what can I say, except that I really missed seeing him on the right side of the war.  Alex, from the beginning, was a man with more honor in a single pinky that most of the English nobility and even royalty that led the charge on subjugating the scots. Even though he switched sides in the fight, his loyalty to Bruce never wavered and seeing him coming to terms with the truth that the English were just as dishonorable in their methods as the Guard was difficult and just a little bit heartbreaking.  It is tough to watch as a man learns that everything he believes in and stands for isn’t to be found in the men he has defended and fought beside, that in fact the Guard is more honorable than any of the English knights that he has always grouped himself with.  Dragon was a character that confused me several times, mainly because I’m not used to the warriors I read about being so intellectual and emotional in their choices.  Alex’s empathy for the people, his desire to keep the innocents from being caught in the power struggle between opposing kings, is what made him such a  great character and what made him change sides in the first place.  Seldom did leaders focus on the little guy being hurt when he would be gaining so much political power and monetary reward.  In the end Seton finds his way back to the side of righteousness and is able to bring about a mostly safe and quick win for the Scots. 
This series certainly ended on a dramatic note; The Ghost was full of emotional drama, the traumas of falling in love in a time of war, and the true connection that two people with the same goals can have.  Seeing Monica end this story by bringing Alex full circle, returning him to the fold of the Guard was enough in itself to make me cry, but add in that Bella’s daughter—all grown up and a master spy—supplies the key to winning the war, had me in tears several times.  Alex is the type of man that every woman wants to find for herself, intelligent, determined, and devoted to honor and love in all facets of his life.  Watching Alex grow and develop into the man he was always meant to be, despite the death threats and danger from his former friends makes me realize that all men (or women) simply need to consider all sides of a problem to know, in their hearts, the best course for their lives.  Joan was a strong female heroine and I enjoyed getting to see her skill as a spy as well as her passion for her king and country and her selflessness as she gives her all, even willing to die, for her beliefs.  Obviously she was the type of woman that could never be broken, even though Alex comes close to accomplishing it a few times.  The heat and fire between these two is undeniable and when they aren’t fighting it the sweetness of their love is one that brought tears to my eyes more than once.  Alex and Joan have both gone through a lot during this series and to finally see them get their HEA bought only one thought to my mind: ABOUT DAMN TIME AND DEFINITELY WELL EARNED!
This series ending is a little bit heartbreaking mainly because as I got to see more of the Guardsmen fall in love I became more and more invested in their lives, almost as if I was living their lives right alongside them.  Monica’s skill and flair for sexy Scottish warriors and passionate Scottish (or sometimes English) women is enough to guarantee that I will enjoy anything she writes, but the Highland Guard series will forever hold a special place in my heart.  Even after Alex and Joan found love, I wondered how so many men, so close to a king that has scraped and clawed his way onto the throne would be able to live long happy lives.  Luckily Monica knows her readers well and gave us a glimpse many years down the line of all the Guard members and the lives they have led.  The peace and freedom from English reign was hard won and sadly historically didn’t last long, but seeing Bruce and his closest warriors all find a little piece of happiness in the middle of death and destruction gives me hope that, even in our present climate of politics and war, there will be one intrinsic fact that continues—love heals all wounds and can make or break a war. If you haven’t enjoyed the Highland Guard series from the very beginning I highly recommend you do so, even though you will be tempted to jump right in with Alex’s story, because if you did you would be missing out on a great adventure with these amazing men and women as they work to change the world. Can’t wait for whatever masterpiece comes next from the heart and mind of Monica McCarty, but I can tell you one thing for sure, whatever it is I want a copy ASAP.

*eARC provided by publisher (via netgalley) for the purpose of an honest and unbiased review.  No compensation was provided.

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