Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review: Here Burns My Candle

I admit freely that I am a fan of historical novels, not only because they often have a happy ending, but also because I can learn something while I am reading. This is why I chose Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs.

The story takes place during the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 in Scotland. Elizabeth, the main character, is a commoner who is married to a nobleman, Donald. She lives with him and his family, which includes his mother, brother, and sister-in-law, in what amounts to an apartment in Edinburgh. Her mother-in-law, Marjory, doesn't seem to think much of Elizabeth--she's a commoner, and a Highlander to boot. Elizabeth tries extremely hard to please everyone, especially her husband, while Donald is philandering about town. Then Bonny Prince Charlie shows up and charms everyone into becoming a Jacobite and joining his cause. Donald and his brother up and enlist and they run off to war, while the three women are isolated and abused as traitors as soon as the rebel army leaves town. Their lives go downhill from there. This was a good story(it is supposed to be a variation of the Book of Ruth), and I do want to read the sequel, but there were a couple of problems which marred my enjoyment.

First, Elizabeth practices the "auld" ways, and much is made of this. It is never really clear, however, what those "auld" ways are--druid, perhaps? Elizabeth doesn't actually 'worship' these 'auld' ways, based on the descriptions in the novel. She only seems to go through the motions, saying a few words on certain days because that is what she was taught to do by her mother. That hardly qualifies as a practice, or the big secret that she seems to think it is. The entire Kerr family seems to attend church primarily as a social necessity rather than from any sort of religious fervor, at least at the beginning of the novel, so I was rather underwhelmed by Elizabeth's angst over this.

It was also suspect to me that the main heir to a noble family would have been allowed by either his parent or his church to marry a commoner. It might have been fairly common for second or third sons to marry commoners, but not the head of a family, which is what Donald would have been considered, once his father passed on. It would have been Lord Donald's 'job' to produce an heir to carry on the family name, and it would have been his responsibility to be the family leader, not the Dowager Duchess. Noblewomen weren't supposed to do much of anything except look pretty and have babies back then. But that would probably have formed a different focus for the novel, and would not have been consistent with the Book of Ruth, so I suppose that it was necessary.

Finally, the men in this novel really came out looking rather shabby. Lord Donald, the guy who was supposed to be the head of the family, couldn't keep his hands off other women, and cared so little for his family that he deserted them and then ruined them(because he was a traitor, the three women were reduced to starving themselves). For Donald it was all fun and games, and for his brother it wasn't much improved. As for Rob, he was under the mistaken impression that if he gave everything to Elizabeth, she would love him, and he didn't seem to want to take 'no' for an answer. Throughout Here Burns My Candle, the menfolk seemed to make the messes and the women were left to clean it up. Actually, that is pretty much the same as it is today, so maybe the author is onto something.

Here Burns My Candle is an enjoyable novel. I did become engaged with the characters and shed a few tears while reading. I am fond enough of the characters to want to know what happens to them. I was happy to hear that there is a sequel, and look forward to visiting with Elizabeth again.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. This company did not tell me what to write with regard to this book, they only provided me with a free copy.

1 comment:

  1. I sometimes like a good historical novel set in this era. Recently I remembered why I loved the Pillars of the Earth so much when I watched the made for tv series. It made me want to read something else set in that timeframe.


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