I read Ms. Ruger's previous series Highlander Heroes. Each of those books blew me away with their adventure and fabulous characters. This book Heart Of Shadows is a bit lighter on the adventure and a bit heavier on the character development. It pairs an H and h both equally damaged and stubborn and in need of soul deep love.
(Set up, but no spoilers) Apparently due to both nature and nurture, Liam has a miserable personality from the moment we meet him in this story. He goes off to war and comes back probably worse after being imprisoned for four years. His own father, laird of the Wolvesley estate, refused to pay Liam's ransom, even knowing the price his son would pay at the hands of the English. Upon Liam's return and after his father's death Liam reclaims the family's estate, but finds it in near ruins and only barely functioning. Seven people remain on the entire property to divide up the duties with one woman, Isabel, providing the impetus to hold it all together and preventing it from falling into foreign hands. You'd think Liam would be grateful, but no, he has nothing nice to say and isn't even sure he remembers Isabel. Truth be told Isabel is a different woman than she was before Liam left for war. Back then she was a mere teenager, repressed, abused, and submissive. Now and for the past five years she's learned to be resilient and strong in the face of adversity. Liam takes back control of the manor and effectively takes measures to revive the community which, up until then, Isabel has been supporting single-handedly selling her wares at market. As Liam begins to appreciate Isabel's strength, he's also faced with her fierce independence, and although their personalities clash, he begins to admire her for those same qualities. They aren't so very different when you come right down to it. And so their tempestuous romance begins. But wait, both characters have secrets and demons that throw up obstacles to their being together.
If I have any complaints about this story it's that I wish I had more insight into the earlier lives of these two characters. Most notably how did Isabel lose her parents, and how did Liam get out of prison? I think there are stories there that may yet be told and perhaps we'll hear more in the upcoming books in the series.
The good stuff—I so enjoyed the verbal sparring and power struggles between these two characters, even if I was impatient for their romance to take off. I was intrigued by the intricately described details of what it takes to support life in a medieval castle. The world building was fantastic. I loved the general girl power of Isabel who unofficially managed the manor at barely age 20. Despite her traumatic life she was always able to bounce back. I loved that Liam had real feelings beneath his hardened exterior and let his walls down a bit once he felt loved. And I loved that Wolvesley began to thrive again through the efforts of team Liam and Isabel.
This is a lovely story of resilience, individual victories and forgiveness of self and others. It sets the tone and is a strong foundation for the books yet to come. I'm excited because this is planned to be a six book series, so there's lots more to come.