Monday, April 4, 2011
Title: The Return of Black Douglas
Author: Elaine Coffman
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Format: Mass Market paperback
Release Date: April 2010
How I Read It: Mass Market ARC from publishers
Rating: 5 Crowns A Royal Read
HE’LL HELP A WOMAN IN NEED,
NO MATTER WHERE SHE CAME FROM…
Alysandir Mackinnon rules his clan with a fair but iron fist. He has no time for softness or, as he sees it, weakness. But when he encounters a bewitching young beauty who may or may not be a dangerous spy, but is surly in mortal danger, he’s compelled to help…
SHE’S ALWAYS WONDERED IF SHE WAS
BORN IN THE WRONG TIME…
Thrown back in time to the tumultuous, dangerous Scottish Highlands of the sixteenth century, Isobella Douglas has a lot to learn about her ancestors, herself, and her place in the world. Especially when she encounters a Highland laird who puts modern men to shame….
Each one has secrets to keep, until they begin to strike a chord in each other’s hearts that never been touched before……
As soon as I received this book in the mail, I devoured it! I was hooked from the moment I read about Alysandir wearing his shiny chain mail.
The character of Isobella Douglas was a brilliant read, and I understood her connection with her Scottish ancestors as I too feel that strong connection with my Scottish roots, so in a way I truly connected with her character. Isobella is on a mission to enrich her connection with her Douglas ancestors as well mend a broken heart, thus she has dragged her twin sister, Elisabeth on a journey to the Scottish Highlands. Seeing the tomb of the Black Douglas, Isobella allows her emotions to take over and in doing so she has evoked the ghost of the Black Douglas who is intent on tormenting her (that how she views it). Now she and her sister find themselves transported to the 16th century, Isobella runs straight into the arms of Alysandir, as a feuding Laird takes her sister captive. As the story progresses we see this modern historian blend into a world that seems she was she was meant for, yet will she be able to conceal the secrets she brings with her while trying to get through the cracks in the armor that surrounds Alysandir’s heart?
Alysandir’s character was so well defined and brilliantly portrayed those qualities you would expect a Highland Laird to portray that it was truly an enjoyable experience to read him. He is The MacKinnon in every sense of the word, putting his clan’s needs and safety above all else, ruling with iron fist, that is fair and balanced. While we see this strong, sturdy Highland Laird, we also see the man that lays beneath the chain mail, the man whose heart has been crushed ands it is those actions that cause him leery of Isobella. We also see that Alysandir is hiding a few secrets of his own.
Isobella never imagined that her search for her Mr. Darcy would lead her to the 16th century.
The main characters were very well portrayed as were the secondary characters, and that added a solidness to the plot that made this book a truly enjoyable read. I loved every aspect of this book and the plot was extraordinary. Elaine Coffman brought 16th century Scotland to life with the amazing details that went into this book, each page held something wonderful. I also enjoyed the time travel aspect of this book, transplanting Isobella and Elisabeth into another time and they way that they each brought a bit of the modern world along with them. Vividly composed, rich in detail, this is the type of historical romance that stays with the reader.
This was my first encounter with Elaine Coffman’s writing, and I have to say I am hooked, I will definitely give her other books a go!
* I have to say that I loved this book, and being raised in a Scottish Catholic household I was surrounded by the Scottish superstitions. I was also surrounded by tales of the Black Douglas, some were stories of the man himself others were ghost stories, also my ancestors were from the Isle of Mull, so I felt a real connection to this book.
The raven-haired Highlander will certainly catch the eye of those who love Scottish themed romances.
I would like to thank Elaine Coffman for this lovely Q&A
1. How did this story, The Return of Black Douglas, originate?
EC: It was all because my wonderful readers. When the seventh and last book of Mackinnon series was published in 1997, I put a note in the back of the book telling my readers how sad it was to let go of characters I’d spent so many years writing about. And then, the deluge…letters and email began arriving, all of them asking me to do a series of books on the Mackinnon’s Scottish ancestors. One reader’s group in Florida even gave me some suggestions for writing it. After The Bride of Black Douglas was published in 2000, once again a deluge of readers requesting more books with the Black Douglas. So, it truly was one of those rare occasions when an author can truthfully say their readers were, indubitably, the inspiration for this book, or in this case, a whole new series of them.
2. The Black Douglas is such an intriguing person, what sparked your interest in him?
EC: He did. No, I don’t mean he sent me a text message or tapped me on the shoulder. It was much more subtle than that. I opened The Bride of Black Douglas with a prologue that told the legend of the Black Douglas and how his spirit haunted the castle, but he was naught more than a mystical being whose spirit dwelled in the hearts and minds of the generations of Douglas’s who lived there. No one had ever seen him, but Scotland is the land of magic narrative and haunting folk-lore. So, I finished my prologue and began writing, never intending to have the Black Douglas appear in his ghostly form. And he might have never done so, had it not been for that blasted painting that hung in Beloyn Castle and the way it began to pester me…well, actually, it was the dogs that bothered first, for they never went close to the painting, and then my heroine, Meleri and her fascination with the legend, that made her talk to the portrait. And the next thing I knew, he simply left the painting, and before long, he simply appeared in the midst of my writing.
3. The Return of Black Douglas has lovely historical details throughout the book that truly brings this story to life, how much research did you have to do for this book?
EC: Tons of research went into this story. This is why I like to have a year to write a book, because I do several months of research before writing and quite a lot while I’m writing it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and everything has to be just right. I can literally spend hours searching for the right word. I usually begin with my time period and the history of it in general, as in what was happening in Scotland, England, and France at the time. Who were the people history remembered? And then I begin to research the ancestors of my major character who lives there. In this case, I learned the Mackinnon’s were one of the seven clans of Siol Ailpin, who could trace their ancestry back to Ailpin, father of Cinaed mac Ailpin, one of the early Kings of the Picts. I also discovered the Mackinnon’s belonged to the kindred of Saint Columba, the Irish monk who arrived on the tiny Island of Iona, just off the coast of the Isle of Mull. St. Columba arrived there in 563 AD, with twelve followers, who built a tiny monastery from wood, wattle and daub, that had an influence upon the establishment of Christianity in Scotland, England and throughout mainland Europe. Wow! Who would have thought this tiny island had such an important past? I also discovered, to my euphoric joy, that there were several Mackinnon’s who were abbots at the monastery at Iona. Voila! I had not only had the earliest recorded home of the clan and placed my Mackinnon’s on the Isle of Mull, but I also decided to give my hero and uncle who was the abbot of Iona. Yes, I could have saved myself weeks of research and easily plopped my Mackinnon’s anywhere in Scotland and no one would have known the difference…that is, no one but me. And somehow, I feel that would have been disloyal to the devoted readers who support me. I owe them the right to know that what I give them has been well researched.
4. Since this book is a time travel, did you have trouble blending together the past and the present?
EC: No, I had no problem with that. Actually, I was challenged and had fun with those parts, especially when Izzy gives Alysandir her iPhone. Of course, I had to call my not-as-technically-challenged-as-his-mother, son, to verify that my battery would have continued to work until the battery ran down, in 16th century Scotland, at the same rate it did in the 21st century.
5. I imagine that you hold each of your children close to your heart, otherwise they would not have been developed with such care and clarity. Do you feel as though one character had more of a pull on you than the others and was easier to write? Did you have a character that was harder to write?
EC: Oh, I definitely do hold each of my characters close to my heart. They are my family while I’m writing and become so dear to me by the end of the book, that I have to go through, what I call a separation ritual, when I send my book off to the editor for the last time. I do feel a sense of loss, similar to that when my children went off to college. My characters are gone. There is a void. Sometimes, it is still there, especially when I start another book right away, and I can have a slower start because the old characters are still present in the back of my mind. I keep writing and soon I bond with the new characters and the pace picks up.
As for the second question, there are always characters that are more spontaneous and easier to write. I’ve been told I write wonderful heroes and I think that may be because I bond so well with them and because I genuinely like men. Usually, if I have a character that is hard to write, it is because I’ve given him or her characteristics that don’t mesh well with their personalities, or other characters, and once I go back and so a little personality altering, things take off. An interesting aside: Once, I had this character in an outline that I was never able to completely bring to life when writing. I tried to work him in, but it just did not work. So, I took him out and later on, when another character, who was not in the outline, worked his way into the book, I gave him the name I had given the removed character. I went on typing and something about it started bothering me. I finally decided it was because that name belonged to another character. I changed the name and my new character settled, happily into the story.
6. Many people often overlook the setting of a book, but I believe that when you have a setting as magnificent as Scotland it transforms into another character, what drew you to Scotland, particularly the Isle of Mull.
EC: Oops, I think I answered some of this in my first question, when I wrote about how I decided to set my story on the Isle of Mull. As for what drew me to Scotland, I have Scottish ancestors that I’ve researched, so I has a strong bond with the country before I started writing. Of course, the logical reason might be because readers love books set there, but the true answer goes much deeper than that, for my readers are as varied as the land itself. Even the coldest of hearts cannot help but be moved by Scotland’s tragic past, so full of forlorn causes, thwarted ambitions, heart-wrenching failures, and the ultimate humiliation by England. Yet, in spite of it all, something about Scotland is eternal. Tempered by never ending sorrow, Scotland calls out to me, like echoes from the past….secret, mysterious, evocative, and eerily stirring, waiting for me to give them a voice. The call is strong, and I wonder if it is the voice of my own Scots ancestors, or mayhap it goes back even further. I have only to hear the mournful tune of a bagpipe to feel it, even now, for theirs is one of the most widely known narratives on the world, for it is the nature of us all to retain the sad fragments of another’s past.
7. This is Isobella’s story, will Elisabeth have a book of her own?
EC: Oh yes, Elisabeth’s book is titled Lord of the Black Isle and I am writing it now. Elisabeth struggles to find herself and to become the doctor she was meant to be. The hero is Devan Murray, the Earl of Kinloss, who does his best to thwart her plans. He lives on The Black Isle, which really isn’t an isle, but a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water and right now, he has her in his clutches and does not want to let her go, but we all know how stubborn Elisabeth is and how strong the call of medicine is to her. The opening quote in the book is by Lord Byron: “Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey”. And for the rest, my darling readers, I canna tell ye, fer ye shall have to wait until is it published next April.
8. What can readers expect to see from you in the near future?
EC: I have mentioned the book that I am working on in the previous question. After that, I plan on giving voice to all of Alysandir’s family, right down to his son, Bradan.
9. This is my last question and I just had to ask, Celtic culture is filled with mysticism, do you believe in the supernatural?
EC: this question brings to mind that quote by the British writer of children’ books, Rose Fyleman, who wrote the line “There are fairies at the bottom of our garden.” We are raised to believe in such, for aren’t fairies, ghosts and the like part of the childhood for all of us? I believe there are many things out there that we don’t understand, that is, happenings attributed to the phenomena that we cannot explain by natural laws. Some relate it religion, others believe it is magic, and of late, we hear a lot about the possibility of aliens having a presence in the lives of the earliest civilizations of mankind, and from Egypt to South America, they have found astounding similarities in such things as pyramids, when it is believes the peopll has possible means to cross vast oceans to communicate with each other. I think there is a little part of each of us who want to believe in some of these happenings, while at the same time, we fear others--as in, O am in no hurray to embrace vampires. If by mysticism, you mean the immediate consciousness of the transcendent reality of God, then yes, I do believe in that. If you mean a belief in the existence of realities beyond our perceptual or intellectual understanding, like angels, yes, I do believe in angels and their counterparts, demons. But, I don’t believe anyone has true communication with the dead, or ghosts. I have read or seen on television accounts of near death experiences and the similarities of what people have experienced and I find myself leaning in that direction, for I think there is a time to live and a time to die, and it is possible for some to come dangerously close to death when it is not their time. My mother has such an experience when she was giving birth to me. But then, I have a Scottish connection to the Presbyterian faith, and being one, I know that Scots are some of the most superstitious people around.
Thanks Elaine for joining us today!
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Royal Reviewer Angela Renee at 1:19 PM