Title: Highland Fire (Guardians of the Stone Book 1)
Author: Tanya Anne Crosby
Publisher: Oliver-Heber Books
Publication Date: January 15, 2014
Print Length: 335 pages

In the year 1123, King David of Scotland has established a tenuous peace across the kingdom. Only one obstacle remains in his path towards lasting peace: the Dun Scoti, a wild Highland tribe fiercely opposed to outside rule. In a last-ditch effort to form an alliance with the dun Scoti, David arranges a marriage between clan leader Aidan and Lileas MacLaren. However, Lileas happens to be the daughter of the man who betrayed the dun Scoti clan, and lives under a tragic curse as punishment for her father’s crime. Even worse, Lileas is blackmailed into the arranged marriage under threat of bodily harm to her precious son. In spite of her troubled past, and his own resistance, the wild warrior Aidan finds himself growing unable to resist Lileas’s beauty and kindness. As kings and nobles play politics over the fate of Scotland, love brings two hearts together in a bond that will determine the land’s destiny.

A companion series to author Tanya Anne Crosby’s previous Highland Brides novels, the Guardians of the Stone books take the reader on a journey to Scotland on the cusp of its birth (the Stone in question being the fabled Stone of Destiny, which determines the true King of Scotland). This first entry presents a tale of warring cultures, as the dun Scoti clan clings to the traditions of its Pictish ancestors in a land that is changing far too fast for their comfort. Crosby brings across the story of the dun Scoti with a palpable poignancy, the wistful dreaminess of a culture on the brink of oblivion. History buffs will want to read this with a grain of salt, as Crosby freely admits to taking some liberties with historical details in crafting her story. But this isn’t meant to be a factual historical tale. It’s a speculative “what-if?” yarn, an elegy to a culture that has shaped Scotland to this day, despite vanishing without a trace.

As with any romance, the characters are key to the story’s enjoyment, and Crosby does not fail to provide us with a bevy of colorful personalities. Lileas is a strong, capable heroine with a kind heart; despite the curse laid upon her for her father’s sins, she refuses to give in to self-pity. Drawing on her healer’s skills and gracious ways, she wins over the dun Scoti clan in almost an instant. Her betrothed, clan leader Aidan, is a fine Highland hero, a battle-hardened warrior whose new bride brings out the gentle heart buried deep within. The chemistry between Lileas and Aidan is undeniable. Their coming together as a couple is the stuff that romance novels are made of, a mutual awakening of desire and trust that can only come forth in a love that was meant to be.

The cast is rounded out further by a motley crew of fascinating side characters, particularly Aidan’s sisters, warlike Lael and exuberant Sorcha. The enigmatic Druid priestess Una is an intriguing side character, a mysterious entity whose mysticism quietly shapes the clan’s destiny. The main villain of the story is Rogan, the brother-in-law of Lileas’ late first husband and the driving force behind the marriage. His cruelty and lack of concern for anyone other than himself make him the sort of villain you long to see get his just desserts.

Guardians of the Stone currently has three books out, with a fourth due in July 2017. With its clever combination of history and magic, it’s a series that fans of Highland romance will devour, and have them coming back for more.

Highland Fire is available in paperback and audiobook formats, and in digital format for Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook.

— Heather McNamara