The Rock (Highland Guard Series) by Monica McCarty
Overview by Amazon:
The first time he caught sight of Elizabeth Douglas, Thomas MacGowan thought she was a princess. To the son of the castle blacksmith, the daughter of the powerful Lord of Douglas might as well be. When it becomes clear that his childhood companion will never see him as a man she could love, Thom joins Edward Bruce’s army as a man-at-arms to try to change his lot. If he’s harbored a secret hope that he could close the gap between them, he faces the cold, hard truth when Elizabeth comes to him for help. She might need the boy who used to climb cliffs to rescue her brother from the hands of the English, but she would never see the son of a smith as a man worthy of her hand.
This book was so good, but different than the other books in the series. I liked and respected that Monica McCarty took a step out of the wonderful formula from the other Highland Guard books. We meet Thom when he is a child. He is the son of the smithy on Douglas lands. He played with the Laird’s children and grew to love Elizabeth with all his soul.
What I truly think sets Monica McCarty apart from her peers is the depth of research she engages for her novels. I was going to recommend that readers read the author’s notes before reading the book, but that might spoil the plot. What I found so fascinating is the research Monica did on Medieval marriages and how unlikely a noble born would marry a commoner. It really helped provide some historical context to the plot.
I had great compassion for Thom. Always the outsider – the son of the smithy, lacking training in warfare, never fully accepted. Hearing how he was mocked and teased by the other soldiers for his low birth is really hard to understand from our modern sensibilities when we judge people on their merits, not merely their birth. It seemed like it was always one step forward for Thom and one step back.
Thom has been waiting his whole life for Elizabeth. As a young man he approaches her about their future, only to have her deny her feelings and break his heart. It was hard to like Elizabeth at times, even when the author took great pains to share about her fractured past and how she sees the world. It would be easy to write Elizabeth off as young and spoiled, but I felt like it was seeing the rose coloured glasses fall away in her evolution.
No Highland Guard book would be without really amazing action scenes. I loved the historical content about the raids and sieges the Phantoms undertake. I adored the fact that Thom was needed by this group of elite soldiers. It was also great to have so many former characters make appearances.
I knew this was a great book when I was reading because of the emotions I felt. I was bitterly disappointed that Elizabeth and Thom were not together, yet I was fearful of the union because I knew the consequences. The whole time I was reading, I had an inner dialogue running that was wondering what factors would take place in order for these two to be together.
Thom is one of Monica McCarty’s best characters. There is a great depth to him and it was refreshing to read about a commoner compared to a Laird. It definitely didn’t hurt that Thom is built like a rock, all hard muscles and sinewy flesh.
This was an unexpected book in the series, as most of the Highland Guard books have followed the original members of the Phantoms. The final book is upcoming, The Ghost. I kept thinking this must be Thomas Seton’s story and his redemption, but we got a tidbit about this book and I have definitely changed my thinking!
I can’t recommend this series enough. Extremely well written, compassionate and emotionally engaging and a delightful history lesson. Monica McCarty is one of my all time favourite authors and I adore the fact that this book was different than my expectations. An author who challenges you as a reader and manages to surprise you is one to keep reading and enjoying.