Book Title : The Harp and the Sea
Authors : Anne Barwell, Lou Sylvre
Genre : LGBT, Historical, Jacobite, Fantasy, Magic/Curse, Action
Warnings : graphic violence and battle scenes, implied off-page assault
In 1605, Robbie Elliot—a Reiver and musician from the Scottish borders—nearly went to the gallows. The Witch of the Hermitage saved him with a ruse, but weeks later, she cursed him to an ethereal existence in the sea. He has seven chances to come alive, come ashore, and find true love. For over a century, Robbie’s been lost to that magic; six times love has failed. When he washes ashore on the Isle of Skye in 1745, he’s arrived at his last chance at love, his last chance at life.
Highland warrior Ian MacDonald came to Skye for loyalty and rebellion. He’s lost once at love, and stands as an outsider in his own clan. When Ian’s uncle and laird sends him to lonely Skye to hide and protect treasure meant for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s coffers, he resigns himself to a solitary life—his only companion the eternal sea. Lonely doldrums transform into romance and mystery when the tide brings beautiful Robbie Elliot and his broken harp ashore.
A curse dogs them, enemies hunt them, and war looms over their lives. Robbie and Ian will fight with love, will, and the sword. But without the help of magic and ancient gods, will it be enough to win them a future together?
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Copy received through Netgalley
Reviewed for Divine Magazine
The Harp and the Sea (Magic in the Isles, Book 1)
by Lou Sylvre and Anne Barwell
POV: 3rd person, dual POV
Genre: LGBT, Historical, Jacobite, Fantasy, Magic/Curse, Action
Content Warning: graphic violence and battle scenes, implied off-page assault
The Harp and the Sea is the first intriguing novel in the Magic in the Isles series. Full of mystery, action, romance and adventure, it has everything you could hope for in a historical novel. Historical accuracy, with a touch of fantasy, and characters you fall in love with instantly, allow you to delve headlong into this long-ago period of Scottish History that touched this Scottish lassie’s heart.
From page one, Robbie was a young, sweet lad of the Borders, caught up in political turmoil, jostling between two rulers and trying desperately to find a way to live while being true to his heritage.
Then Ian came along – a Highlander, and a Jacobite rebel – as a big, strapping lad who had a vital task to complete for his uncle and his country.
The minute I read the blurb for this book, I had to have it. I’m Scottish to my bones and proud of it, and I love reading well-written accounts of my heritage. And that’s exactly what this was. Unlike some books I’ve read (and loathed for their mistakes!) this one is so steeped in historical accuracy and attention to detail that I got lost in a world that is both mine and so long ago in my history that it’s almost forgotten.
Reading these characters, visiting the isles of Scotland, and taking this journey with Robbie and Ian felt like a homecoming from long ago. The accents were on point. Not your stereotypical “och, th’ noo” but true Scots, and appropriate for the characters origins, e.g. Ian’s accent being more brogue and thick than Robbie’s, as they’re from two different ends of the country. The recognition that not every Scot knows Gaelic, the old songs, the tartan/plaid, the clans and the deep love we have for our heritage and our fierce fight for independence that goes back to our very roots in the dirt of this land, is everything I could have hoped for and more.
Yet, the authors didn’t shy away from the unfortunate truth of this country’s past, either. The fact that so many of our hard-won battles and bloody efforts were ruined by political divide, that we fought more amongst ourselves than with outsiders, and that most of our efforts to save this country from infiltration were sabotages from inside our own walls. They did a great job of capturing the clan squabbles, the internal conflict, and the constant threat of outside forces.
The fact the story included fantasy elements – magic and a curse – only made it better. King James was obsessed with the occult, so it made complete sense that he would have a witch on hand to protect him. It made sense that witch would sense another with magical ability and try to protect him. It made sense that, (though I didn’t buy the reason for it), she would curse someone who had wronged her.
Historical issues covered:
The Scottish Border Marches
Bonnie Prince Charlie
There are quite a few inconsistencies within the story. As this is an ARC, I’m not counting these towards my rating, because I honestly feel that they’re little niggly things that will be picked up in final edits. For instances:
Ian draws his dirk, yet a few pages before (without having moved location) he reaches for it and realises he left it behind.
It states “for more than two centuries” despite only 139/140 years passing between Robbie being cursed and appearing in Ian’s timeline.
In centuries – again, implies more than one.
An entire sentence is repeated in Chapter 11
The claim the jewels hidden in Ian’s sporran “weigh a hell of a bloody lot” when carried in Robbie’s breeks (trousers). However, anything that can fit in a sporran – which the authors admit later is only the size of two fists – can’t possible weigh enough for Ian to struggle carrying Robbie. It’s not physically possible.
It’s claimed late in the story that Robbie was cursed on the Firth of Forth, but it was actually the river Eden. The river Eden is actually part of the Solway Forth, not the Firth of Forth, so this is a geographical issue. (The Firth of Forth is on the East, and the river Eden on the West)
because the size of harp is never specified – the size of a forearm, the size of a man, etc – it’s really hard to picture it being lugged about by Robbie like a small backpack. It’s either on his back, or tucked under his arm.
There are three big issues, that meant I couldn’t give this novel the 5* it truly deserves. Part of me was desperate to find a way to make it happen, but I can’t ignore the plotting issues that got in the way.
Issue 1: the Parts of the novel
The plot is divided into 2 parts.
For me, the Part 1 and 2 aspect would have made more sense if it divided the two separate timelines, e.g. Robbie’s initial life in 1605, and Ian’s appearance in 1744. But, in this case, we get Robbie’s 1605 life until 8%, then it switches to Ian’s POV in 1744, and we continue to get Ian’s POV for another 8%.
There were huge timeline/plot aspects that could have better utilised a Part divide.
The fact the book never encounters another Part divide after Part 2 also makes it feel obsolete.
Because of this odd Part divide, the timeline faces issues. For example, Chapter 1 begins the story in 1605, Chapter 3 jumps ahead to 1744, Chapter 4 jumps to 1745, and then Chapter 5 (the beginning of Part 2) jumps to a few months ahead. Because of the huge timeline jump – 139 years – it would have made more sense for Part 2 to begin with Ian’s POV in 1744, the year the rest of the novel takes place.
Issue 2: the curse
The blurb is misleading. It states: “He has seven chances to come alive, come ashore, and find true love. For over a century, Robbie’s been lost to that magic; six times love has failed.”
Now: 1) nowhere in the story are we told he has 7 chances to come ashore again. 2) nowhere it is mentioned that “six times love has failed”. In fact, the story mentions Ian is the first man to EVER find the harp: “For the first time in so many that he’d lost count, a man had found harp.” Which means Robbie couldn’t have failed to find love before, because there was never a man for him to fall in love with, until now.
The idea of 7 chances and 6 failed loves is never mentioned IN the story. Only in the blurb. In the story, Robbie can’t remember how many times he’s come ashore, but he was always found by woman, and the novel makes no implication Robbie bisexual, so there is no mention, explicit or implied, that he’s ever had the opportunity to fall in love. Perhaps if Robbie had been bisexual, or had been found my men before, I might believe the fact he’s had chances to fall in love but never been able to break the curse.
However, due to the lack of consistency between the blurb and the story, there is no sense of why *this* chance is so vital, until Robbie tells Ian this is his last life.
Issue 3: Melisandre
The Melisandre/Fargy aspect was rushed, slowed the pace of the story, and didn’t add much we needed to see. I understand we needed to be introduced to the curse, why it was given, and that Robbie had his own magic, but the pages it took to get there felt laborious.
Fargy, as a character, didn’t make any sense to the story. He was used as a tool to spare Robbie’s life, making the curse necessary, but there were other (better) ways to do this. In fact, I think the story would have been stronger if the whole King James seduction had been ignored, Fargy removed, and those pages used to give more weight to Melisandre’s anger at Robbie. Something more substantial would have been more believable. It’s hard to imagine a woman as wily and clever as her teaching Robbie magic, knowing she’d have to kill him if he refused her. This ruthless, cunning woman cursed him for such a lame reason. If her curse was possible, why didn’t she just make him forget the magic she’d taught him and make Fargy forget Robbie existed?
The fact Robbie went from a feisty, strong young warrior who was willing to die for his cause, defying a King and a witch, to becoming her puppet with blind obedience didn’t sit well with me, either. Nor did it come across clearly that it was her magic making him behave that way. I loved Robbie until that part, and then he became a bit of a simpering stereotypical female lead.
I would have liked a lot more internal struggle from him, something to show that he knew he was acting out of character, but that he was unable to fight it, rather than the blatant submission and acceptance of his situation than ran throughout.
The Harp and the Sea took me home to my deepest Scottish roots, and reminded me equally of why I love my country so much, and how deeply we betrayed ourselves in the past. Filled to the rafters with a roaring adventure, magic, mystery, mayhem and forbidden love, it has everything you could want in a historical novel. Clans clash, a harp plays, and the sea drives two man together as often as it tries to tear them apart.
In the end, while there were inconsistencies, and some issues with the plot, I fell in love with Robbie and Ian. Their love, their adventure, and their fight for freedom, victory and the welcome of the Bonnie Prince, grabbed me and refused to let go. The book is a monster, divided between Robbie – searching for a cure to his curse, and lost in the passivitiy of its sway – and Ian – hankering for victory, but willing to put his life on the line for the man he loves.
It has bags of potential to be a re-read, permanent favourite, and I can’t wait to read more in the series. I’m looking forward to getting this one in paperback, and seeing what else these two authors bring to the series.
Keithen shook his head and blew out an exasperated breath, then concluded, “Live if you can, Robbie. Live for all of us.”
“Whatever fear ye found in your dreams, it’ll nae have ye whilst I hold ye.”
“I do love ye, Robbie. Know that, and take it with ye into your dreams.”