Linda Howard’s Son of the Morning is a lot of things: romantic suspense, time-travel adventure, paranormal. But mostly, it’s the story of one woman’s transformation from innocent academic to street-smart survivor. Her love interest, medieval warrior Black Niall, is really more of a reward for suffering through a really, really crappy year.
Even at the novel’s opening, Grace is no dummy. For example, she’s conversant in several convenient languages, including Old French, Old English, Latin, and Greek. But rather than working in a traditional university position, she works for the Amaranthine Potere Foundation, a crazy rich organization that funds everything from the most prestigious digs to the smaller projects that fill in the smaller gaps in the historical record. Even better, her husband and her brother work there as well. It’s basically the perfect gig—so of course, there’s something very, very wrong.
Because of her mad linguistic skills, Grace gets hold of a one-of-a-kind manuscript written in a smattering of these medieval languages, plus Gaelic. Normally, this would inspire just professional jealousy and, at worst, some snotty gossip at the next academic conference. Unfortunately, the ominously named Foundation isn’t as benevolent as it appears. She returns home in time to watch as their boss, local poo-bah Parrish Sawyer interrogates, then murders ,her husband and brother. (And all they wanted was a decent health care plan and two weeks paid vacation. Jeez.)
And so Grace takes off into the night, lugging her manuscript and her laptop, equipped with a sharp mind, but almost no street smarts. And so begins her long struggle to evade Parrish’s team of goons and keep clear of the police. Every step of the way is riveting, from her desperate attempts to get more than the day’s alloted ATM withdrawal to learning sketchy passport acquisition tricks. She buys wigs, she works as a fry cook, she learns to fight street-style.
Even as she learns pre-cellphone tricks for surviving off the grid, Grace is also teaching herself Gaelic, so she can decode the manuscript Parrish is willing to kill for. If you’ve ever tried to learn any kind of Gaelic, you’ll know this is harder than running from hired killers. Did you know that, in Irish Gaelic at least, you have to conjugate prepositions? True story. And Grace isn’t even trying to learn the version you can still use in the distant corners of Ireland’s Gaeltacht. She’s learning Medieval Scots Gaelic. Nightmare!
What she isn’t doing this whole time is getting to know Black Niall, former Templar, badass warrior, and her putative love interest. Grace is getting glimpses of him through her painstaking translation work, resulting in some eerily realistic naughty dreams. On his end of history, Niall starts to feel someone watching him. In fact, Grace doesn’t meet Niall in the flesh until 250 pages into the novel. Instead, she spends far more time playing cat and mouse with Conrad, Parrish’s head security guy. It’s enough to make you wonder whether Howard thought about taking the novel in a completely different direction and making him into the hero, like Ben Lewis in Heart of Fire. But there’s also the fact his features are described as “apelike,” which is a little... problematic, on a lot of levels.
Niall is cut from the same manly cloth as Howard’s other alphatastic heroes: He’s big, dark, and bursting at the seams with testosterone. His manhood (no, not the abstract one) is substantial. That said, he lacks the affability of Howard’s other heroes. For example: Grace travels across space and time to find Niall and when she does, immediately rescues him from his enemies. His response? To kiss her until she orgasms (yeah, um, that’s more far-fetched than time travel) and then bail, leaving her to find her own way out of an enemy stronghold. He feels just the slightest bit guilty, but it’s not the most swoon-worthy introduction to a character in the history of romantic literature. On the other hand: huge sword.
Anyway, the Middle Ages were a big, mean epoch, so big, mean bastards probably made the best possible husbands. And at the end of the day, Niall is what Grace wants, and after her year of grief and Gaelic, that’s the least the universe can do.
By day, Kelly Faircloth covers innovation and technology. She spends the rest of her time reading and writing about books. Her work has appeared at io9, Inc and The Big Money, and she blogs intermittently at www.NoKindaLady.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyFaircloth.