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REVIEW: Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

REVIEW: Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Dear Ms Howard:

The re-release of one of your only time travel novel provided a perfect excuse for a re-read. Son of the Morning was first published in 1997. It’s an unusual romance in that for much of the story, Grace and Niall, the two main protagonists are separated by the dimension of time. While I remembering enjoying Son of the Morning when it first came out, I think I appreciated the richness of the development more this time around, likely because I knew what awaited me. This book is time travel + mysticism + suspense all in one volume.

Linda Howard Son of the MorningGrace St. John lives an ordinary and fulfilling life with her husband Ford. She met Ford through her brother Bryant and everyone has remained close (Bryant lives on the other side of the duplex that she and Bryant inherited). Grace is a translator of ancient texts. One night she traipses next door to receive computer assistance from her nineteen year old genius neighbor, Kristian. She returns home only to see her husband and her brother killed by her boss, Parrish. Devastated and terrified, Grace flees. After some time, Grace becomes convinced that the reason Parrish is determined to kill her is because in the course of her work she comes across a document pertaining to the Knights Templar. (I think it is important to remember the date in which this book was published because it predates all the Dan Brown stuff).

Grace is actually translating the 700 year old writings of Black Niall. At the time of her husband’s death, Grace has only managed to translate 10% of this document but she is determined that the text holds the answer to Ford and Bryant’s killings.

Niall of Scotland becomes a Templar, a warrior monk, because, well, the text of the book explains it best:

Niall had been forced into the Brotherhood, for of course a monk could never be king; a king must have at least the possibility of children, for kingdoms were built on continuity. His illegitimacy should have been an unsurmountable barrier, but even at a young age Niall had been tall and proud, intelligent, cunning, ruthless, a born leader; in short, he had all the characteristics of a great king. The choices had been simple: kill him, or make it impossible for him to be king. Niall was loved by his father and half-brother, so there had really been no choice. The young man would be a servant of God.

His half brother is, of course, Robert the Bruce. Over time, Niall’s believe in God erodes as he watches his Templar brothers hunted, burned, killed all under God’s name. Throughout time, his family became his brothers of the Knights Templar and as they died one by one, Niall’s devotion became embittered. When he is called upon to be the Guardian, Niall refuses to swear to God, but instead promises on the blood of his brothers to protect the treasures imbued to his defense.

The story really revolves around Grace. With the help of her genius neighbor, Grace gets enough money to leave town. She’s only got one goal in mind: survive to find the answer of her husband’s death. Grace is inept at it at first. She gets mugged at an ATM. She spends too much replenishing basics at the big box store. She makes a believable transformation from timid scholar to capable fugitive. She uses every skill at her disposal: her intelligence; her quick wittedness; her determination. She’s not physically strong and described as petite and small. But she’s observant and thinks on her feet. Through her research and translation, she becomes closer to Niall. She begins to view him as her talisman. She thinks about what he would have done in her shoes. The thought of him provides her courage and encouragement.  What she begins to feel for Niall is at odds with her grief. I felt the discovery of a new love was well done, not diminishing her feelings for Ford, but allowing a place for Niall.

Niall shares equal page time. There are plenty of scenes from his point of view. Niall’s character arc mirrors Grace’s a bit. He grieves the loss of his brothers and while he might not admit it, his faith. He spends his time alone, his task one only he can carry out.  But Niall doesn’t undergo a transformation.  He’s accepted his role, albeit reluctantly.

While Grace and Niall don’t meet face to face, they share mutual dreams of each other. Hot, lusting dreams and their mental bonds draw each other closer until its brings them physically together. I think this is a clever use of the time travel concept because it skirts the issues of time travel books bring up as it relates to parallel dimensions. Niall’s duty as Guardian is to protect the artifacts of Jerusalem at all costs. It is this power that sends him throughout time to dispatch this duty. Thus Niall isn’t immortal, exactly, it’s just that time affects him differently. The mysticism is bound up on the intent of the action. “Only for the sake of God may the secret be used.”

This is not a perfect story. A little too much emphasis is placed on Grace’s ordinary looks and her loss of weight over the course of her adventure (although it should be noted that Grace’s husband adored her). Grace and Niall are separate for most of the book. In some ways, this is a fated mate story. Destiny draws Grace and Niall together and their feelings for each other develop in ways that require some leap of faith.  There are some convenient occurrences that allow Grace to prevail on more than one occasion and probably some historical inaccuracies (although I didn’t notice any).

Yet, it’s a compelling story and imbued with the fun of adventure, conspiracy and mysticism. There is a great blend between nerdy translation of texts and action and danger as Grace tries again and again to avoid capture.  Grace is a fantastic heroine and Niall is a classic Howard hero. It’s hard to grade this book but I’d probably give it a B+.

Best regards,


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REVIEW: Prey by Linda Howard

REVIEW: Prey by Linda Howard

Dear Ms. Howard:

In a recent podcast, Sarah Wendell and I talked about how there are titles we would like to have rebound into collector’s items so that they can sit on our shelves and be read and admired.  Some of your titles would be on that list. After the Night.  Now You See Her.  The Diamond Bay/Kell Sabin series.  Yes, even Dream Man.   But ever since your move to hardcover, I have felt that you’ve taken your work in a direction that I wasn’t prepared.  For that reason, I have a hard time grading “Prey.”  Maybe if I was a mainstream fiction reader or a mainstream thriller reader, I would read this book differently.  My assessment and my disappointment stems from the fact that I wanted more interaction between the male and female protagonists.

Prey Linda HowardInstead, the book treats me to several scenes from the primary antagonist, an accountant who is fleecing his mobster boss, a long scene from a random hiker, and yes, even a black bear.  I don’t read a lot of mainstream so maybe this is normal? Having scenes from an animal’s point of view.  The bear is an antagonist.  It’s not presented as a particularly loveable, lumbering bear, but one that is intent on eating, well, hikers and whomever else it can get it’s jaws on.

He studied the sheep. He was downwind of the heard, the cold mountain air bringing the scent sharp and clear to his nostrils…He went into a frenzy of destruction, bellowing his rage and frustration
as he took out his killing fury on the vegetation…

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take from seeing the bear’s point of view.  Was it to show him as sympathetic? Was it to create increased atmosphere?  Was it some unique literary technique they are experimenting with in the litfic world?

As for the accountant, he was supposed to be very clever, so clever that he as leading his mob boss off to this wilderness trip to go bear hunting and plans to kill the boss and the hunting guide and then will escape to Mexico with his money.  He is afraid of the mob boss’s associates.  Yet, why does he think that shooting the mob boss makes sense? Why not just escape to Mexico?  I was never quite sure why the mob boss went with the accountant. After all, the accountant believed that the mob boss was starting to get suspicious of the accountant’s activities.  Why would the mob boss be by himself?  But when the bear shows up, the accountant thinks to himself that he never planned for a bear despite the fact that they were going BEAR HUNTING.  If you are going out to hunt bears, wouldn’t you plan for bears?

The small glimpses of interaction I saw between the hero and heroine were fun and interesting but so so few.  According to my notes, I was up to 244 of 300+ pages and I think we had about 10 pages of dialogue and interaction between the two.

Angie Powell runs a wilderness hiking business she inherited from her dad and not very well.  She doesn’t recognize her own strengths (catering to families and other women) and instead runs the business focused on hunters and fisherman, like her dad did.  She’s been losing a tremendous amount of business to Dare Callahan, a war veteran, who has set himself as a guide in Montana.  People, particularly the big game hunters, prefer to hire Dare. Plus his website is up to date and his facilities are more modern.  Angie decides to throw in the towel and sell her spread, the land and her home, and move on with her life.  Before her father died, she had been happy as an admin in a Billings hospital.  But before she sells her land, she has a client to guide into the wilderness and that client is the aforementioned accountant and his mobster boss.

Harlen, her friend and Realtor, gets worried about Angie going by herself into the wilderness with two guys and takes his concerns to Dare.   Dare decides to trail Angie, just to make sure she’s okay.  In another life, Angie and Dare would be lovers, not these barely speaking acquaintances.  Dare had asked her out, twice, when he first got to town and had gotten shot down twice.  She still does it for him but he’s too dim, I guess, to figure out that she resents his success.  Or he recognizes it, but is still irked at her refusal to date him? I don’t know. Not much time is spent contemplating this.  Dare isn’t a deep guy and that’s not an insult.  He knows what he wants. He tries to get it and in Angie’s case, he fails.

Angie’s very competent at what she does and maybe in a better economy and without the mortgage her father took out to encumber the land, she could have made it.  She’s a no nonsense kind of girl and while it pains her to give up the land, she knows it is the best thing for her.

I liked Angie and Dare. It was obvious how they were going to end up together. Hinted early on is Dare’s hatred of paperwork.  Good thing that Angie loves doing the admin stuff.  The bear stuff, the not so clever accountant, the danger, none of that turned the pages for me, primarily because the minutae of planning and detail was dry.  I kept reading for more glimpses of Angie and Dare but I felt like I was a desert traveler having to suck the juice out of a cactus.    When I got to the third POV scene from the bear, I was utterly defeated.  There was no hope for me.  Even the cactus juice can’t keep me going at this point.

Best regards,


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