Sarah and I recently had a discussion about romance novels that come in a series, and I bitched briefly about how I don’t like it when I’m reminded of how every member in the series met their soulmate through extremely melodramatic circumstances. The third book in Karen Ranney’s Highland Lords series, The Irresistible MacRae manages to avoid this particular pitfall, so big props to her for daring to write a sweet story about two genuinely nice people falling in love without throwing in evil relatives hell-bent on ruining the protagonists’ happiness, heroes masquerading as the Scarlet Pumpernickel, or any other such nonsense. Unfortunately, the main source of conflict in the plot (heroine is engaged to Nefarious Gold-digger, so what’s a sassy lassie to do when she finally meets her true love, woe woe woe?) has an extremely simple solutionâ€”a solution that’s ignored as a possibility until the very, very end, at which point I felt like yelling “You numbnuts, you could’ve done that 200 pages ago!”
Anyway, to get to the story: Riona McKinsey’s mother unexpectedly inherits a very prosperous estate from a distant relative, which means Riona’s desirability on the marriage martâ€”and that of her sister’sâ€”is boosted considerably. Accordingly, Mama McKinsey hires a duenna, the cantankerous and hilarious Mrs. Parker (whom I kept envisioning as one of the Monty Python members in drag), to steer the two girls through society and make advantageous matches for them. Riona’s sister, Maureen, makes an excellent love match straightaway with a British soldier stationed in Scotland.
Riona isn’t quite that lucky. During a ball, she’s lured into the garden by the smarmy and extremely broke Harold MacDougal, who then attempts to compromise her to force her into marrying him. He doesn’t succeed in so much as stealing a kissâ€”Riona, to her credit, kicks him in the nuts while he’s trying it and this is one of the few satisfying blows she gets in, from here on out it’s sheer frustration watching her helplessness, babyâ€”but he does succeed in mussing her up. And of course that’s enough evidence of her ruined virtue for the rest of society, and perhaps even more importantly, in the all-powerful Mrs. Parker’s eyes.
Riona initially resists the attempted manipulation, but Harold insists on spreading ugly false rumors about what they did in the garden. She realizes that the scandal of being both ruined and unmarried would in turn ruin Maureen’s chances at marrying her British captain, but balancing her personal happiness with that of her sister’s proves to be a much harder task than she had bargained for. She eventually acquiescesâ€”reluctantlyâ€”to Harold’s suit.
Riona’s mother decides to enlist help with Riona’s mulishness from an old friend and former tenant of hers, Fergus MacRae, who was something of a father-figure to her girls while he lived with them. Fergus, however, is otherwise occupied by his impending wedding, so he sends his nephew James in his stead.
Of the MacRae brothers, James is the sensitive, pretty girly-man. He became a ship captain because his brothers did, but he doesn’t feel the same affinity for the seagoing life as his siblings. He maintains a journal, in which he confides his most intimate thoughts in the best angsty, sensitive girly-man prose. Really, if James were a modern man, he’d probably keep a livejournal, listen to bands like The Flaming Lips or Radiohead and have oodles of fangirls who secretly assume he’s gay.
So at any rate, here’s the rest of the plot: James meets Riona. They fall madly in love at first sight. Riona’s mother sees this, tells a big whopping lie about missing livestock and enlists James’ help in catching the imaginary thief in an effort to keep him at the farm longer. A crazy-ass villain with a grudge against the MacRaes makes a quick appearance, but that side-plot is neatly resolved about halfway through the book. James realizes that a farmer’s life is much more fulfilling for him than being a ship captain. Riona and James have OMG HOT SEXX0R. And everyone in the book who realizes how perfect James and Riona are for each other just kind of walk around with their dicks in their hands going “Uh duhhrrrrrr, what do we do, boss, what do we do?” But praise Jah, James finally gets a clue and resolves everything in the last 40 pages of the book.
Despite the rather dismal excuse for conflict in this novel, The Irresistible MacRae is still eminently readable. Like I said before, this story was a nice break from the high drama of the first two books. It also helps that Riona and James are both extremely likeable characters. I like how realistic Riona’s struggles were when it came to weighing her concerns about getting married to Harold the Slimeball vs. her sister’s happiness. Her deep-seated desire to be selfish and tell everyone to fuck off was a nice change from the usual romance novel heroine, who can be quite the martyr, and her eventual capitulation makes her that much more honorable because you realize the cost it exacts on her. And James is adorable. He’s hot, he tries hard to resist Riona before he caves in to his desires, and he also has a nice protective streak to him that’s never obnoxious. I happen to like sensitive girly men, what can I say? Makes a nice change from the usual romance novel heroes, who tend to be hyperkinetic alpha types.
I did bump the grade a half-point lower because of one more issue besides the plot: Ranney’s tendency to dwell on her protagonists’ internal musings was a bit much. YES, I know Riona is unhappy with her choices. YES, I know James is having a hard time resisting Riona even though he knows he should stay away from her. I GET IT. MOVE ON WITH THE STORY, PLZ. It’s all very prettily written, but pretty is as pretty does.
But really, despite all my snarking, you could do a lot worse with a romance novel choice than picking up The Irresistible MacRae. You could, for example, be reading Kill and Tell. If you don’t mind books with lots of introspection and sluggish excuses for plots don’t bother you too much, feel free to give this a shot. I do recommend reading the first two books first, but Ranney handles the backstories skillfully enough that doing so is not strictly necessary.
The Highland Lords novels, in the order in which they were published: