A Falcon for a Queen

A Falcon for a Queen - Catherine Gaskin 2-2.5 starsIt's tough to categorize this book. The cover says that it's a gothic novel set in the Scottish Highlands. If "gothic" means Way Too Long, then this book fits. The germ of the story is a good one, but moving everything along is almost impossible - it's a tortoise-pace.I suspect the idea was to use Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" and that style of novel as the inspiration behind this 1972 novel. Except that, IMO, the author didn't sustain the action or the suspense through the majority of the story. There was always this gothic description with the idea that we, the readers, are holding our hands to our mouths in gasps of fright or surprise. But the fright and surprise never really came. Frankly, it took me over 2 weeks to read this book, mostly because I could only read a small portion before becoming quite bored. I wanted to read the story, because, as I said, the germ of it interested me. But all the surrounding stuff just faded into nothingness, and I felt that instead of springing to life, the main characters (especially Kirsty, Callum, Margaret, and Gavin) seemed to fade into caricatures and behave in ways that I didn't understand and couldn't make sense of.If you want to know how to make Scottish whisky (yes, no "e"), then this is the book for you. There are pages and pages of description, and while it's somewhat fascinating, as a reader, my eyes glazed over a bit. Except that THIS BOOK is about the making and distilling of whisky - the fictional Cluain whisky, single-malt and the finest whisky ever. In Gaelic, Cluain means "green plain" or "pasture", and there is a brand of Scotch whisky called Clynelish, which might be the inspiration for Cluain whisky - it's situated in the right spot geographically, and it boasts of being a "Cluain whisky" - or from the pasture.-----------Anyway, this is the story of Kirsty (Catherine) Howard. Her father was a bishop who chose to go to China. Kirsty's mother, the only child of Angus Macdonald, married Kirsty's father and went off to China with him, against her father's wishes. Kirsty and her brother William were born and raised in China, but William returned to Scotland for schooling, intending to become an engineer and take advantage of the unmechanized country to make his fortune in China. Except that William never returned to China; he died at Cluain. Kirsty's father died shortly after in China - he unfortunately got in the middle of feuding war lords and was a casualty of that war. Kirsty had just buried her father when she received word from her grandfather in Scotland that William was dead. Before he died, William sent Kirsty a scroll in Mandarin script; while it was difficult to translate, the scroll essentially said, "She has killed...", pointing to someone at Cluain being responsible for William's death.Having nowhere else to go and her only family her never-before seen or spoken to grandfather in Scotland, Kirsty takes herself to Scotland and Cluain. She learns of the fierce rivalry between the Campbells, who have the title and the big house, and the Macdonalds (her grandfather), who got the best of the farm lands in an old family dispute. The current Campbell, Gavin, seems amiable enough, but he's married to the beautiful Margaret and has a son, Jamie. Gavin and Margaret have grown apart, mostly due to her over-reaching father, James Ferguson, who was determined to purchase respectability and a title for his daughter and heirs. Ferguson was born a merchant, not a gentleman; but he's amassed great wealth, which he has no problem spreading about, taking over the Campbell house and grounds to rebuild it and make it grander, as well as building a London family home, so that his daughter can be a proper lady. Ferguson and Margaret have cultivated the acquaintance of the Prince of Wales, and Prinny is coming to the Campbell home for a summer visit, so of course, no expense is to be spared.But there's more to the breech between Margaret and Gavin. Both Gavin and Kirsty suspect that William and Margaret were having an affair before his death. Is Margaret the "Enchantress"? Is she the "she" of the scroll? Could Margaret have killed William?Kirsty also meets Callum Sinclair, a handsome, single, independent man who lives by his own rules. Callum has the falcon of the title, Giorsal which is Gaelic for "grace". Callum's mother, Mairi Sinclair has a whole tale to herself: Mairi was tossed from her crofter's cottage by her father after beating her near to death when he discovered Mairi was with child; no, it's not incest. Mairi wouldn't name the father, and still hasn't these 30 years. She's been shunned by many, but her gifts at housekeeping, cooking, and mainly healing have earned her a place in the gossiping countryside. Mairi is the housekeeper and cook of Cluain - harsh, stern, and almost frightening. At first, I thought she would be the Mrs. Danvers ala "Rebecca" of this gothic tale, but not really. Mairi is frightening in her austerity and her obvious passion for her independence and her son. Kirsty wonders if Mairi Sinclair is the Dragon Lady her brother William wrote her of, and if Mairi possibly helped poor William on his way with her herbs when he'd been injured and became ill in a hunting accident. Is Mairi the "She" in "She has killed...."?But Kirsty has eyes only for Callum. She's almost instantly drawn to the man 10 years her elder. He tries to put her off, but Kirsty is determined to have him. She forces Callum to tell her all about the distillery and the whisky (thus our first lesson in whisky making). Callum runs the distillery, although he won't do any more work than that; it's his bargain with Angus Macdonald, Kirsty's grandfather. Her grandfather and Callum seem to only tolerate each other - barely. Kirsty can't quite get the story as to why from anyone. But everyone, including the young, pretty, efficient maid Morag warns Kirsty to stay away from Callum - even Callum, himself.When it becomes apparent that Callum is having an affair with Margaret Campbell, Kirsty almost loses herself. She's a woman in the Victorian era in the Scottish Highlands; she's not allowed to truly work or housekeep, and she isn't allowed to be part of the business. For all her grandfather has slowly and grudgingly accepted her, he's made it clear that she should marry a man to keep Cluain going. Kirsty is determined that man should be Callum. So when she discovers that he's head-over-heels in love with Margaret C and having a summer affair with her, Kirsty is crushed. Morag seems to know everything about Callum's comings and goings, and Morag tells Kirsty where Margaret and Callum meet; Kirsty can't help herself, she finds herself going to that small cabin. While there, her trusty little pony falls ill after eating from an oat bag. Mairi nurses her back to health. Not a day or so later, Callum shows up with a dead Margaret in his arms - while out on one of their trysts, Margaret's horse was acting strangely and finally stumbled, throwing Margaret and breaking her neck. The mare broke her leg when she stumbled. The scandal of Margaret and Callum is already known, however. During the Prince of Wales' visit, Callum did the sword dance in full Highland dress with a piper. When the dance ended, Callum ran to Margaret, bowed to her and kissed her hand, ignoring the Prince altogether. The Prince was amused, and so no damage was done... except for the wagging tongues, who knew that the gesture was a snub to the Prince but also a gesture of declaration.Gavin had already told Kirsty that he was going away - far from his lands. The Campbells didn't have much income before his father-in-law interfered, and because of that monetary interference, Gavin felt "owned" - something he passed off when he and Margaret were in love. But now, knowing her betrayal with Callum, Gavin was going to leave. And then Margaret died.Gavin and Kirsty had formed a friendship of sorts. One that from the beginning showed the signs of being something more, except that Gavin was married. And once Kirsty saw Callum, all thoughts of Gavin left her head - for more reason than one. But after Margaret's death, Callum took off, leaving Kirsty in charge of his falcon; Gavin took Jamie on an extended hunting trip; and Ferguson is holed up with her grandfather and his accountant. Will Ferguson buy Cluain?What Kirsty discovers, finally, is that Ferguson is going broke. He's proposed a deal by which Cluain will join with 2 other distilleries to take over the Ferguson brand. His brand is mostly blended whisky - Cluain whisky with various other brands, making several different price points. But with Prinny's visit, Ferguson's creditors finally started calling in the bills, and Ferguson didn't have the money to pay them.Kirsty is incensed that her grandfather is even considering the possibility of giving up his independence and the fierce independence of Cluain to become part of a partnership that wouldn't favor Cluain. Her grandfather doesn't see any other way; Kirsty is a woman without a husband - there's no man to run the distillery.AND FINALLY, we get to the part of the story that's interesting! Morag has overhead most of this conversation, and she puts in her two cents, saying that she's going to get the Macdonald family bible and Mairi Sinclair, despite Angus Macdonald's threats. And so, we discover just who Callum Sinclair's father truly is, and what part Morag has had all along in this tale.Tragedy ensues... deaths occur... and we have a few pages left to see Gavin and Kirsty pick up the pieces and continue on together, once again reuniting the lands of the Campbells and the Macdonalds.-----------While the overall story is good, the majority of this book is just. plain. boring. Sorry if I offend, but it takes a motivated reader to finish the pages and find the gem. I wouldn't recommend it for that reason.