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.
Grace 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+.
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Son of the Morning was a favorite (way) back in the day – when I could tolerate time-travel romances (now I can barely stand them!). Linda Howard used to write really good stuff …
My only disappointment with this book was that they spent too much time apart – otherwise classic Linda Howard of old. If only she was still writing to even half of this standard.
I love love love this story and it’s on my keeper shelf.
I love that Faith loved her husband Ford and I cried at the part when she remembers her wedding day and Ford I though that scene was beautiful.
Niall was quite the alpha and Grace was feisty on her quest for revenge, even though they did spend most of the book apart it worked for me.
I wish Linda Howard was still writing books like this. I have yet to pick up Prey.
I love this story and is a keeper for me as well. The secondary characters don’t overshadow, but are intriguing enough to add to the story.
@Loosheesh: I find myself feeling the same way about TT novels. Used to love them but maybe I read too many, or maybe they’re inherently too similar… I dunno. Now there are only a few I’d consider rereading.
This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’ve reread it so many times. For me, Grace’s transformation from quiet and shy bookworm to slayer of evil doers made me cheer her on because not many authors were doing kick-ass heroines back then. At the time of this book, Howard was still writing stories about people we could connect to and understand – even if some of the events are beyond our everyday experiences, we felt like we knew and understood Grace.
And yes, I agree with some of the comments here about the old-style Howard books. It’s not just her, but many of my auto-buy authors have dropped off that auto-buy list because they got away from what they were good at, and those stories they excelled in writing were what kept me reading. Most of them I’d loved from back in their category romance days, and although I understand their need/want to grow and write more advanced and complicated works, I don’t understand why they can’t see they left behind some of the things that made their stories so popular. And in doing so, they left behind many of their readers.
I think it’s that they lost that feeling of resonance with us – we could no longer connect to their characters, so it became harder to enjoy their work. While I may enjoy books about world traveling master spies and espionage, those down-home stories about “normal” people thrust into circumstances that force them to grow and become stronger and more capable than they thought they could ever be are the ones I can empathize with, and they became my favorites. I miss that – I would stand in line to buy more books like the Mackenzie stories, Rachel Lee’s Connard County series, and others like them.
One of my absolute favorites of hers!
The best Linda Howard single title and one of my favorite books. I reread my first copy a dozen times and had to buy another for my shelf. Black Nial, so yummy.
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I think I will always love Son of the Morning best of all her books. For all the reasons that everyone else has mentioned. We have a heroine who loved her husband and actually had a great relationship with him and her brother. There was no, oh, my husband was not good enough at so and so and Niall will have the magic sword for me.
I think between the MacKenzie’s and Son of the Morning that was peak LH for me. I realize that authors evolve but I feel like many of the ones I loved like Garwood and Howard went so far off what worked for them that I have given up. So sad.
@Nikki: “There was no, oh, my husband was not good enough at so and so and Niall will have the magic sword for me.” – this made me laugh! I liked this aspect of the book very much; I find many romance novels tend to portray dead spouses as sources of “dissatisfaction”. I guess this is their way of setting up the hero as the “one true love”?
I love the Mackenzies also; when I got my Kindle, I ran and got the Mackenzie bundle, Dream Man and After the Night. I love many of her early books but these are my absolute faves and they go into the reread category.
People really liked this book? I picked up the audio on a very very mindnumbingly boring trip down the Ohio Turnpike and the only reason it did it’s job in keeping me awake was because I was spending so much time yelling at the characters. I’m sorry, but when a character spends at least 10 minutes of audio (how many pages would that be?) agonizing about pissing in the woods, they are too stupid to live. I only made it to the scene where she breaks into someone’s house to shower by the time I made it to my destination so I didn’t bother to listen to the rest.
Wow, thanks so much for the review, Jane! I’m such a big fan of time-travel romance + Templars totally sound up my alley.
To Amazon I go!
@Loosheesh: “I love the Mackenzies also; when I got my Kindle, I ran and got the Mackenzie bundle, Dream Man and After the Night. I love many of her early books…”
Yes! Along with Kill and Tell, and I’m so glad to see a lot of the old classics being re-released now. There’s a line in Kill and Tell that I’ve never forgotten – “There couldn’t be anything more perfect, she thought, than slow dancing, barefoot, on a balcony in New Orleans, while the rain poured down and twilight wrapped around them.” Yummy.
I still buy every book she writes – I’ve been a fan for way too many years to count. But I miss that thrill of getting halfway through the first or second chapter of a Howard book and thinking, OMG, I’d better get a pillow and a quilt because I’m gonna be here a while. And I sure would like to see some characters like those we all fell in love with. Wolf and Zane Mackenzie? What’s not to love? LOL!
@The Octopus Gallery I thought the scenes that you found TSTL portrayed Grace at her early stages of her transformation and lent believability to her position. She was a scholar and not an outdoorsman. She had suffered from seeing her beloved husband and her brother shot before her, mugged at the ATM, pushed out of her home, and was on the run. I didn’t expect her to be very competent in the woods.
@Jane: “I thought the scenes that you found TSTL portrayed Grace at her early stages of her transformation and lent believability to her position.” I agree, and I think because she found that transformation so difficult, and because she’d been through so much, getting that deserved HEA at the end was so much more satisfying.
@The Octopus Gallery: Actually, I know I would agonize about it. But I think as Jane says, she is a woman used to creature comforts who is also in shock. She isn’t going to say, screw it let me do whatever, the dithering is almost a way to separate herself from the bigger picture because right at that moment, she can’t handle the big issues. At least that’s how I saw it. And it makes a big difference between her then and her later.
Son of the Morning is also on my keeper shelf and one of my favorite Linda Howard books. In fact, I just reread this last month. It is not perfect, and there are problems with the whole time travel aspect (but what time travel story doesn’t have holes?). But I enjoy it for much of the same reasons others have posted here. Grace’s transformation feels so real to me; I think LH did a great job making her journey believable. One of my saddest days as a reader was when I realized that LH must be dropped from my autobuy list.
This title is one of two of my favorite LH books. The other is Touch of Fire, which has mystical elements through the heroine, who is a doctor with healing powers. I agree with other posters that LH is beyond her prime. I used to buy her books in hardcover, now I reserve them through the library! Her recent books are easier to write, IMO. Say what you will about Nora Roberts, but at least she’s consistent.
To me this was an A read, one of the best romances out there. It may not be perfect, but it is wonderful. It was the second Linda Howard book I’d read, after “An Independent Wife”. Since the heroine of that book was a complete doormat married to a controlling abuser, I hated it. Then I read SotM and fell in love — with Grace, with Niall, with Ford, and with Linda Howard’s writing.
Don’t quite agree about the “fated mate” comment in the review, however. It wasn’t preordained that Grace and Niall get together; it was her strength of character and ability to grow and change that brought her to him. She wasn’t Niall’s from the beginning but transformed herself into his mate. And that, to me, despite all of the paranormal TT aspect of the book, is part of what made it so wonderful, that an ordinary woman could, through intelligence and hard work, become extraordinary.
@Susan/DC: “that an ordinary woman could, through intelligence and hard work, become extraordinary.”
I haven’t read this one in years, but I think there’s a copy on my keeper shelf. Maybe it’s time to dust it off and re-read. I miss the old Linda Howard and her books.
I listened to it this year on audio and while I hated the fake Scottish accent they gave Niall, I was able to overlook it and enjoy the book I remembered liking very much when I read it on first publication. Mackenzie’s Mountain and After the Night will always be my favorites, I think.
I love the way Grace evolved in this one and I just love old Linda Howard’s :) Mackenzies for the win :)
Having read almost all of her early Scottish themed books, I just came upon this one and could not put it down, rereading many passages over and thinking about them. I do agree with many of the other critiques that there should have been a longer emphasis on the relationship between Grace and Niall, the introduction until their eventual meeting is too long. Nontheless, I will read this book again and again and I do hope Ms. Howard will return to this kind of story again in the future.
My question is, if she loved her brother and husband so much and had the ability to time travel, why did she not go back and save them from being murdered? Is it cuz she found a new lover from the past?