The Harp and the Sea

by Anne Barwell , Lou Sylvre

The Harp and the Sea - Anne Barwell and Lou Sylvre
Editions:Kindle - FirstePub - FirstPDF - FirstPaperback

A Magic in the Isles Romance

In 1605, Robbie Elliot—a Reiver and musician from the Scottish borders—nearly went to the gallows. The Witch of the Hermitage saved him with a ruse, but weeks later, she cursed him to an ethereal existence in the sea. He has seven chances to come alive, come ashore, and find true love. For over a century, Robbie’s been lost to that magic; six times love has failed. When he washes ashore on the Isle of Skye in 1745, he’s arrived at his last chance at love, his last chance at life.

Highland warrior Ian MacDonald came to Skye for loyalty and rebellion. He’s lost once at love, and stands as an outsider in his own clan. When Ian’s uncle and laird sends him to lonely Skye to hide and protect treasure meant for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s coffers, he resigns himself to a solitary life—his only companion the eternal sea. Lonely doldrums transform into romance and mystery when the tide brings beautiful Robbie Elliot and his broken harp ashore.

A curse dogs them, enemies hunt them, and war looms over their lives. Robbie and Ian will fight with love, will, and the sword. But without the help of magic and ancient gods, will it be enough to win them a future together?

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Excerpt:

Excerpt from Chapter Five, which relates the same moments twice—once from each character's perspective.

Skye, June 1745

Ian woke with a start, his dirk already in his hand before his eyes were properly open. He glanced around, unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong, although if asked what or why he couldn’t explain it…

The harp was gone!

Memories of the evening before flooded his mind. He’d walked by the beach as he usually did, checking that all was well and there was nothing there that wasn’t supposed to be. Since his run-in with Campbell and his men, he’d made a point of keeping an eye on the area at least twice a day. The harp had caught his eye, the tip of the old wood caught on the white crest of a wave, not quite submerged, or belonging.

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It had taken but a moment for Ian to make the decision to rescue the thing. Part of him identified with it, he suspected. It had been so long since he’d felt he belonged. Sure, this was an important task he’d been given, but it was so lonely, especially since Fergus had died. It wasn’t as though he and the old man had conversed much, but Ian had taken some comfort in the knowledge he wasn’t completely alone. When his uncle had bestowed the task upon him, it was understood he’d keep to himself and not have much to do with the locals. The Harp and the Sea |

It was safer for both him and what he guarded as it didn’t take much for stories to travel and find the wrong ears.

He still regretted not having had the chance to tell his parents the truth behind his banishment. His parents might not have approved of their son’s relationship with another man, but they hadn’t turned their backs on him for it. However, it hadn’t stopped his mam from telling him it wasn’t natural. A fine young strapping lad such as himself should get himself a pretty girl and settle down.

Months spent in only his own company hadn’t stopped him wishing for what he didn’t have, and what he truly wanted. On a cold night, those dreams were both a comfort and a curse.

A firm thigh. A muscular arm. The scent of someone unmistakably masculine.

“Aye, because that’s going to happen,” he’d muttered as he waded out from shore to recover whatever it was stuck out there, neither a part of the sea nor the land.

The water was freezing, but he’d expected that. He’d shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold. One firm yank and the harp was in his arms. His breath hitched, his imagination caught in the same way the instrument had been trapped by the seaweed, a green slimy rope holding it to its watery prison.

The harp was still beautiful, despite the state of it. Once ashore, Ian allowed himself to run his callused fingers over it, marvelling at the smoothness of the wood. Amazingly, the strings were still intact. He plucked at one, and then another, wincing at the following cacophony. It needed a good tuning, but he didn’t possess the knowledge. He had no clue what song it should play, just the strong feeling it was missing something—that like him, it wasn’t complete.

His thoughts snapped forward to the present, his attention taken by the slightly open door of his stone cottage. He’d shut it the night before, he was sure of it.

Ian’s eyes narrowed. Some thieving bastard had been in his home while he slept! Fully awake now, he grabbed his sword and its sheath as he stomped out of the cottage, intent on capturing the culprit and at the very least giving him or her a piece of his mind.

At least it wasn’t Campbell or one of his men. If it had been, Ian would know it by now. Campbell wouldn’t have let him sleep but more likely held a knife to his throat and ensured his waking was a painful one.

“Not very clever for a thief, are ye?”

The tracks leading from just outside the door were clear as day, the red rays of the rising sun highlighting them as clearly as though the thief had left a sign-posted trail for Ian to follow. He didn’t need any further invitation. The harp needed to be kept safe, though if asked he wouldn’t have been able to say why. Still, he had to find it.

The footsteps led him to a clearing some distance from the cottage. A man sat huddled on the ground, clutching the harp to his breast. He seemed lost, afraid, yet for some reason very familiar.

Ian forgot to breathe for a moment, lost in the sight before him. The man was slim and blond, with long hair stretching down to almost his arse. He stared at Ian, his green eyes the colour of the deep sea. Neither of them moved.

And then the harp began to sing.

***

 

The sun finally rose, and Robbie Elliot felt its warm finger skim along his pale skin, seeking his bones to warm them. Every time this moment had repeated itself throughout his long life, for just that blink of time, his existence seemed worthwhile. To feel the sun caress and kiss his skin, to see it spark gold off the knotty locks of hair that hung before his eyes, this one feeling made his heaven. It would pass too soon, but for that instant, everything was perfect.

He looked out at the olivine sea. He loved her, gave thanks to her for the gifts she had given. She was his mother, but she gave with a cold breast.

Heavy footsteps approached; it would be the Highlander who’d been asleep in his cottage when Robbie snuck in to retrieve the harp. The man would be afraid of witchcraft, once he saw Robbie sitting before the harp, legs stretched on either side, leaning over the arc of its neck as if it were an ailing lover.

Robbie hadn’t made it to land yet from his most recent stint at sea when the ruddy Highlander had lifted the harp from the foam at the edge of shore, but he’d been aware. Even before Robbie left the surf and stepped on dry sand, he’d sensed the man who’d touched his harp and felt he’d known him a lifetime.

And the feeling had woken him quickly, completely, mind and body, had pulled him towards the beach as if he were a fish on a line. He didn’t fight it. For the first time in so many that he’d lost count, a man had found the harp! It was a man who’d been drawn to the magic, who’d touched it and touched Robbie, though he—this Highlander who’d found the harp—had no way to know what he’d done. Drawing his first harsh breath of air as he rose from the sea, Robbie had felt such hope that it stung his eyes.

Voice raspy from long disuse, he’d whispered to himself, or perhaps to the sea. “Can it be at last? Can this be the completion of the magic?”

For all he had tried, he had not been able to make the harp sing with any of the women he and the harp had met—be they ladies or housemaids, whether they wanted him or not. And he knew why. He was, despite everything, the same Robbie Elliot he’d always been, and they were women. How could that work?

Now, sneaking a glance as the finder approached him across the meadow, Robbie thought, But this is truly a man. A ruddy, huge Highlander, kilt-clad and bearing a hand-and-a-half sword across his back.

When the man found the harp, Robbie had still been roaming far out among the waves. But despite the distance, with all the senses of the sea at his disposal, he’d seen and heard with his mind’s eye—and no less clearly. The great bear of a man had hefted the sodden wood of the harp in one massive hand—a hand that Robbie could feel as if it grasped his own flesh—and carried the wounded thing to shore, whistling off-key some song of the Highlands.

And now the Highlander stepped into the glade where Robbie sat in the sun with the harp before him as if ready to coax a tune from her broken strings and warped neck. He strode across the sunlit ground, the red flush on his face and neck betraying his anger, his eyes on the harp, intent.

But when at last the tall, red-headed Scot raised his eyes to meet Robbie’s… Oh, wonder!

The harp began to sing.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Maryann on Liminal Fiction wrote:

The first time I read Lou Sylvre was in 2011 – “Loving Luki Vasquez,” the first book in the “Vasquez and James” series. In 2012 I read my first Anne Barwell book – “Shadow Boxing,” from the “Echoes Rising” series. I continued reading both these authors, and recently they collaborated with “Sunset at Pencarrow” a sweet, romantic tale, very entertaining. With “The Harp and The Sea,” Sylvre and Barwell are becoming an outstanding writing team. I was so impressed with the research of the 16th and 17th century history and mythology of Scotland’s events, places and clans that created this superb novel.

“Sometimes stories exist because some part of them used to be true.”

Robert “Robbie” Elliott is a Reiver, not a very good one, but very talented at playing the harp. Unfortunately, he’s captured during the battle of Border Marches in 1605. He’s up against many dangerous situations – the Border Marches, King James, dungeon and death. While watching the death of many men he didn’t know (and some he did), he spies Melisandre, Witch of Hermitage. Robbie has no idea what he’s up against when Melisandre saves his life.

In 1744, Ian MacDonald the husky, kilt wearing, Highlander had put himself in a few situations that are looked down upon. His Laird and Uncle Alistair loves his nephew like a son, but to help Ian he has a plan. Although it leaves Ian feeling banished, he goes with the plan and is off to live a lonely life on the Isle of Skye. He does so with a dangerous assignment – to protect the treasure for a Prince.

When Ian eventually saves Robbie and the harp, they find themselves on a dangerous and amazing quest to protect the treasure and to gain freedom and love for themselves.

I don’t often say “I loved the characters,” but Ian and Robbie were wonderful. Even though Ian is leery of Robbie he still accepts him magic and all. The romance the authors create for Ian and Robbie couldn’t be more perfect. Not only did the authors create a story with two lovable characters, but they transport the reader back to 16th and 17th century Scotland.

When I got to 60% of “The Harp & The Sea” I had to stop and look up the history of this place and people. Sylvre & Barwell made this novel so enticing I went in search of the Scottish clans: Elliott, MacDonald, MacQuarrie, Campbell, MacLeod, with their crests and tartans. I looked up the places and events: Duntulm Castle, An Uaimh Bhinn, Manannan mac Lir, Carlisle Castle, Border Marches battle and Jacobite rising of 1745. I even went so far as finding a map to locate all the Isles: Skye, Staffa, Rum, Man. So many more fascinating things to read about.

I highly recommend this amazing, page-turning tale of fact, fiction, fantasy, magic, romance, suspense, adventure and action. “The Harp and The Sea” was not what I expected, and I thank Lou Sylvre and Anne Barwell for surprising me and keeping me thoroughly entertained!

Elaine White on Divine Magazine wrote:

Beautiful!July 27, 2020
Overall

4.0
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Copy received through Netgalley
POV: 3rd person, dual POV
Genre: LGBT, Historical, Jacobite, Fantasy, Magic/Curse, Action

The Harp and the Sea is the first intriguing novel in the Magic in the Isles series. Full of mystery, action, romance and adventure, it has everything you could hope for in a historical novel. Historical accuracy, with a touch of fantasy, and characters you fall in love with instantly, allow you to delve headlong into this long-ago period of Scottish History that touched this Scottish lassie's heart.

CHARACTERS

From page one, Robbie was a young, sweet lad of the Borders, caught up in political turmoil, jostling between two rulers and trying desperately to find a way to live while being true to his heritage.
Then Ian came along – a Highlander, and a Jacobite rebel – as a big, strapping lad who had a vital task to complete for his uncle and his country.

PLOT

The minute I read the blurb for this book, I had to have it. I'm Scottish to my bones and proud of it, and I love reading well-written accounts of my heritage. And that's exactly what this was. Unlike some books I've read (and loathed for their mistakes!) this one is so steeped in historical accuracy and attention to detail that I got lost in a world that is both mine and so long ago in my history that it's almost forgotten.
Reading these characters, visiting the isles of Scotland, and taking this journey with Robbie and Ian felt like a homecoming from long ago. The accents were on point. Not your stereotypical “och, th' noo” but true Scots, and appropriate for the characters origins, e.g. Ian's accent being more brogue and thick than Robbie's, as they're from two different ends of the country. The recognition that not every Scot knows Gaelic, the old songs, the tartan/plaid, the clans and the deep love we have for our heritage and our fierce fight for independence that goes back to our very roots in the dirt of this land, is everything I could have hoped for and more.
Yet, the authors didn't shy away from the unfortunate truth of this country's past, either. The fact that so many of our hard-won battles and bloody efforts were ruined by political divide, that we fought more amongst ourselves than with outsiders, and that most of our efforts to save this country from infiltration were sabotages from inside our own walls. They did a great job of capturing the clan squabbles, the internal conflict, and the constant threat of outside forces.

The fact the story included fantasy elements – magic and a curse – only made it better. King James was obsessed with the occult, so it made complete sense that he would have a witch on hand to protect him. It made sense that witch would sense another with magical ability and try to protect him. It made sense that, (though I didn't buy the reason for it), she would curse someone who had wronged her.

Historical issues covered:
The Scottish Border Marches
Bonnie Prince Charlie
Jacobite Rebellion

ISSUES

There are quite a few inconsistencies within the story. As this is an ARC, I'm not counting these towards my rating, because I honestly feel that they're little niggly things that will be picked up in final edits. For instances:
Ian draws his dirk, yet a few pages before (without having moved location) he reaches for it and realises he left it behind.
It states “for more than two centuries” despite only 139/140 years passing between Robbie being cursed and appearing in Ian's timeline.
In centuries – again, implies more than one.
An entire sentence is repeated in Chapter 11
The claim the jewels hidden in Ian's sporran “weigh a hell of a bloody lot” when carried in Robbie's breeks (trousers). However, anything that can fit in a sporran – which the authors admit later is only the size of two fists – can't possible weigh enough for Ian to struggle carrying Robbie. It's not physically possible.
It's claimed late in the story that Robbie was cursed on the Firth of Forth, but it was actually the river Eden. The river Eden is actually part of the Solway Forth, not the Firth of Forth, so this is a geographical issue. (The Firth of Forth is on the East, and the river Eden on the West)
because the size of harp is never specified – the size of a forearm, the size of a man, etc – it's really hard to picture it being lugged about by Robbie like a small backpack. It's either on his back, or tucked under his arm.

There are three big issues, that meant I couldn't give this novel the 5* it truly deserves. Part of me was desperate to find a way to make it happen, but I can't ignore the plotting issues that got in the way.

Issue 1: the Parts of the novel
The plot is divided into 2 parts.
For me, the Part 1 and 2 aspect would have made more sense if it divided the two separate timelines, e.g. Robbie's initial life in 1605, and Ian's appearance in 1744. But, in this case, we get Robbie's 1605 life until 8%, then it switches to Ian's POV in 1744, and we continue to get Ian's POV for another 8%.
There were huge timeline/plot aspects that could have better utilised a Part divide.
The fact the book never encounters another Part divide after Part 2 also makes it feel obsolete.
Because of this odd Part divide, the timeline faces issues. For example, Chapter 1 begins the story in 1605, Chapter 3 jumps ahead to 1744, Chapter 4 jumps to 1745, and then Chapter 5 (the beginning of Part 2) jumps to a few months ahead. Because of the huge timeline jump – 139 years – it would have made more sense for Part 2 to begin with Ian's POV in 1744, the year the rest of the novel takes place.

Issue 2: the curse
The blurb is misleading. It states: “He has seven chances to come alive, come ashore, and find true love. For over a century, Robbie’s been lost to that magic; six times love has failed.”
Now: 1) nowhere in the story are we told he has 7 chances to come ashore again. 2) nowhere it is mentioned that “six times love has failed”. In fact, the story mentions Ian is the first man to EVER find the harp: “For the first time in so many that he'd lost count, a man had found harp.” Which means Robbie couldn't have failed to find love before, because there was never a man for him to fall in love with, until now.
The idea of 7 chances and 6 failed loves is never mentioned IN the story. Only in the blurb. In the story, Robbie can't remember how many times he's come ashore, but he was always found by woman, and the novel makes no implication Robbie bisexual, so there is no mention, explicit or implied, that he's ever had the opportunity to fall in love. Perhaps if Robbie had been bisexual, or had been found my men before, I might believe the fact he's had chances to fall in love but never been able to break the curse.
However, due to the lack of consistency between the blurb and the story, there is no sense of why *this* chance is so vital, until Robbie tells Ian this is his last life.

Issue 3: Melisandre
The Melisandre/Fargy aspect was rushed, slowed the pace of the story, and didn't add much we needed to see. I understand we needed to be introduced to the curse, why it was given, and that Robbie had his own magic, but the pages it took to get there felt laborious.
Fargy, as a character, didn't make any sense to the story. He was used as a tool to spare Robbie's life, making the curse necessary, but there were other (better) ways to do this. In fact, I think the story would have been stronger if the whole King James seduction had been ignored, Fargy removed, and those pages used to give more weight to Melisandre's anger at Robbie. Something more substantial would have been more believable. It's hard to imagine a woman as wily and clever as her teaching Robbie magic, knowing she'd have to kill him if he refused her. This ruthless, cunning woman cursed him for such a lame reason. If her curse was possible, why didn't she just make him forget the magic she'd taught him and make Fargy forget Robbie existed?
The fact Robbie went from a feisty, strong young warrior who was willing to die for his cause, defying a King and a witch, to becoming her puppet with blind obedience didn't sit well with me, either. Nor did it come across clearly that it was her magic making him behave that way. I loved Robbie until that part, and then he became a bit of a simpering stereotypical female lead.
I would have liked a lot more internal struggle from him, something to show that he knew he was acting out of character, but that he was unable to fight it, rather than the blatant submission and acceptance of his situation than ran throughout.

OVERALL

The Harp and the Sea took me home to my deepest Scottish roots, and reminded me equally of why I love my country so much, and how deeply we betrayed ourselves in the past. Filled to the rafters with a roaring adventure, magic, mystery, mayhem and forbidden love, it has everything you could want in a historical novel. Clans clash, a harp plays, and the sea drives two man together as often as it tries to tear them apart.
In the end, while there were inconsistencies, and some issues with the plot, I fell in love with Robbie and Ian. Their love, their adventure, and their fight for freedom, victory and the welcome of the Bonnie Prince, grabbed me and refused to let go. The book is a monster, divided between Robbie – searching for a cure to his curse, and lost in the passivitiy of its sway – and Ian – hankering for victory, but willing to put his life on the line for the man he loves.
It has bags of potential to be a re-read, permanent favourite, and I can't wait to read more in the series. I'm looking forward to getting this one in paperback, and seeing what else these two authors bring to the series.

Favourite Quotes

Keithen shook his head and blew out an exasperated breath, then concluded, “Live if you can, Robbie. Live for all of us.”

“Whatever fear ye found in your dreams, it’ll nae have ye whilst I hold ye.”

“I do love ye, Robbie. Know that, and take it with ye into your dreams.”


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About the Authors

Anne Barwell

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with Kaylee: a cat with “tortitude” who is convinced that the house is run to suit her. To date it appears Kaylee may be winning the discussion.

In 2008, Anne completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes.  She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ.

Anne’s books have received honourable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards.  She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.

 


Lou Sylvre

Lou Sylvre loves to ponder what-ifs. Stars, seas, forest, deserts, histories and futures. Wild things and home things and gardens and lonely trees. And love, lots of love—and in her books love always wins. She thinks about the heart of the universe and the quest to find it through connection—words and music, arts and sciences, family and friends. She wishes she could live every life, know all the joys and beauty and even the bitter tang of loss and solitude that must accompany it. She can't do that, of course, so she lets the whole of it infuse her imagination and writes it instead. Sometimes her stories are suspenseful or even terrifying, sometimes romantic and even sexy. Magical and light or sorcerous and dark. Or realistic—and that's magic too. It's a quantum world out there, and we still haven't got to the point where we can always tell where physics ends and magic begins.

On a more straightforward note, she is a proudly bisexual woman, a mother, grandmother, lover of languages, and cat-herder. When writing, she works closely with lead cat and writing assistant, the (male) Queen of Budapest, Boudreau St. Clair. When he lets her have a break, she drinks strong coffee, plays guitar, grows flowers, walks a lot, and reads. Besides books and music, she loves friends and family, wild places, wild roses, sunshine, and dark chocolate. Not necessarily in that order. She lives and works in the rainy part of Washington State, and hearing from readers on Facebook or Twitter, or via e-mail (Lou dot Sylvre at gmail) always brightens a gray-sky day.


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