I should’ve liked this book more than I did. It seems to be the highest-rated out of all the Highland Lords novels, which have thus far gotten variations of B grades from me. It has a lot of elements I normally enjoy: a hero’s who’s been literally tortured, a look into the wackiness of 18th-century medicine, and the promise of loads of hot hot hot monkey sex. But I think a combination of too much redundant internal musing, protagonists who are just a bit too perfect and the unexpected rise of the Nitpicking Monster that resides deep within me probably did the trick. (I’m sad to report that if I had a superpower, the Nitpicking Monster would probably be itâ€”mild-mannered tech writer by day, rabid quibbler of insignificant details by night! Anyone want to design my hot Spandex superhero outfit for me? But please, I’d appreciate it if my nipples weren’t presented in stark relief on my suit.)
In To Love a Scottish Lord, Hamish and Brendan MacRae finally meet their matches. (Oooh look, a pun.) Mostly, the story is about Hamish, who was captured while trading off the coast of India and systematically tortured for a year before successfully escaping. On his return to Scotland on Brendan’s ship, he takes up residence in an abandoned castle he christens Castle Gloom. He’s determined to be a hermitâ€”a hermit with a paralyzed arm, at thatâ€”but Brendan has other ideas. In short order Brendan is back at the castle with an assload of supplies, a cook, a carpenter and a hot brunette who’s been dubbed the Angel of Inverness for her healing prowess.
Mary Gilly is that rarest of romance novel creatures: a widow who genuinely loved her much older husband, and her sex life was decidedly better-than-ho-hum. No clichÃ©s in this book involving virgin widows or orgasm-less wives who wouldn’t know what to do with a friendly penis if it poked her in the face. Mary’s husband was a goldsmith, and his death left her very well off. (He also left her a sociopathic apprentice with an unhealthy obsession with Mary, but more on him later.) Mary had been feeling just a bit restless when lo and behold, along comes a most interesting case for her to handle.
Sparks fly when Hamish and Mary first meet, of course. And initially Hamish mightily resists her efforts to treat him, of course. But within a few days of meeting each other they’re humping like crazed monkeys, of course. And Mary gets to see in gruesome detail what the Indians did to Hamish, but she doesn’t so much as flinch nor does it diminish his attractiveness to herâ€”of course.
Then Hamish comes up with a radical idea: dismiss everyone from the castle, including Brendan, have Mary write to her friends and the apprentice, Charles, to let them know that this particular patient is going to need more time than expected, and this way they can boink all over the castle, all they want. And Mary is like, yeah, crazy monkey sex, woo! And has Brendan deliver letters to her best friend, Elspeth, and Charles, Creepy Apprentice Par Excellence.
Two things result from this errand:
- Brendan falls head over heels for the very comely Elspeth.
- Charles tips over the edge from “kinda creepy” to “full-on batshit insane.”
He stirs up rumors that Mary killed her husband, and successfully has her arrested for murder. His plan? He has some evidence that he’s willing to withhold, as long as Mary marries him. And she won’t, of course. Then Hamish comes galloping down to Inverness to find her and eventually is forced to recount a pretty grisly incident from his travails in India in an effort to save Mary, only I don’t get how the anecdote is supposed to help Mary at all; it just seems like a really weird plot device to get Hamish to open up on a Deep Dark Secret that’s been gnawing away at him and Hinted At Darkly through most of the book.
But in the end, this Mary-being-unfairly-incarcerated plot is resolved in a rather surprising way, so props to Ranney for not doing the expected thing
So, OK, the title of the book puzzles me a little because neither Hamish nor Brendan is a lord, though their oldest brother, Alisdair, is an earl. I’m thinking To Love a Scottish Guy Who’s Closely Related to a Lord and Might Actually Succeed to the Title if the Two Eldest Brothers Kick The Bucket, Which is Pretty Unlikely However Since The Two of Them Gave Up the Relatively Dangerous Business of Seafaring for Tamer Pursuits, and Technically the Title is English and Not Scottish Anyway would’ve been too unwieldy. But this isn’t a complaint, just a riff I decided to stick in here because I thought it was pretty funny and didn’t want to waste it.
One of the things that did actually bother me about the book, though, was Mary’s relentless perfection. Is she a wonderfully progressive healer for the time? Check. Is she patient and warm? Check. Is she hot? Check. Is she boobtacular? Check. Does she have some adorable yet meaningless flaw, like, ohhhh, a fear of stairs and heights that she overcomes to treat Hamish? Check. I liked Mary, but I also found her kind of boring.
I liked Hamish a bit better, but even he came across as just a bit too much of a paragon. He’s horribly tortured and indelibly marked by a dark-skinned race while coming from a culture and time that does not look kindly on dark-skinned furrinersâ€”in fact, a culture and time which subscribes to the idea that dark-skinned furriners are sub-human, barbaric and inferior in every way even before said furriners brandish their implements of torture. Yet he harbors no bitterness or hatred towards his captors. While entirely commendable of him, I also found it very hard to swallow. He is also realistically skittish about engaging in any sort of relationship beyond the sexual, at least at first, but within weeks of meeting Mary, he’s in love and willing to marry her. This is not believable behavior for a man who’s undergone the trauma he has.
So on one hand, I’m kind of glad Ranney was all classy and avoided hysterics and melodrama, but on the other hand: DUDE. Torture. An abandoned castle. Madness. A little bit of melodrama and a longer recovery period for Hamish would not have been amiss.
I also took an inordinately long time to finish this book because I kept falling asleep about 10, 20 pages after I started reading. I finally figured out that it was all the internal musing that was doing me in. Not a whole lot happens in this book, at least until Mary gets arrested in the last third or so of the novel. Mostly, Mary and Hamish talk, have some sex, then they ponder. A lot. Zzzzzz.
When I wasn’t falling asleep, I was looking crap up in reference books and on the Internet. Now this is not at all Ranney’s faultâ€”the things I’m going to nitpick on are hardly worth mentioning at all, and are a result of me being rabidly anal-retentive about really stupid things, and I never know what is going to set me off, or why. Regardless, here’s some of the stuff that bothered me:
- Brendan and Mary are on a first-name basis right off the bat. WHOA. That’s some intimacy going on hereâ€”I mean, this is in an era when married couples addressed each other as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” To illustrate: quite far into Mr. Impossible, the hero is babbling at the heroine and all of a sudden he breaks off and blurts out “And I don’t even know your first name!” or words to such effectâ€”and then I realized that all this time the hero HAD been properly referring to the heroine as Mrs. Pembroke, and I thought YES, finally, a historical romance that gets that right. So yeah. Guy calling a woman who’s not even remotely related to him by her first name? Major protocol violation. And if the guy who does it isn’t even going to be the one who ends up with her? Pointless major protocol violation.
- Apparently Mary has some morphine laying around. OK, coolâ€”except morphine wasn’t identified and isolated from opium until 1803, just over 20 years after this book begins, and even then its use wasn’t widespread until the 20th century, when hypodermic needles came into common use. Laudanum or straight-up opium were how people got their RDA of morphine back in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- Some other word usage bothered me, like tumor and influenza. There’s nothing wrong with using these words; according to the etymological dictionary I consulted, they were certainly coined well before the story took place. I guess I would’ve preferred words that sounded more convincing for the time period like “grippe” (which ironically enough was coined after influenza) or “ague.” I know, I KNOWâ€”how stupid is this nitpick? Incredibly fucking stupid. But I can’t help myself. It’s a disease with me, a disease, I tell you.
- OK, so Hamish has only one usable arm; his left arm is completely paralyzed due to some nasty shit the Indians inflicted on him. But in the beginning of the book, Mary notices that Hamish is dressed immaculately, down to a neatly-tied stock at his throat. Eh?!? Just about anyone would be hard-pressed to put on and button their pants with only one usable arm, much less tie off a jaunty neckcloth.
OK, I’m done beating up on the book now. Seriously, though, it wasn’t a bad book. I didn’t dislike the characters, even if I found them somewhat hard to believe in. And once Mary got arrested, I stopped falling asleep every 20 pages and was all “HOLY CRAP WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT?” Ranney also gets one thing very, very right: the sex. It’s sexy, and beautiful, and emotional, and just about everything sex should be in a romance novel. If the rest of the book had been as good as the sex, it would’ve been an A-, easy.
But like I said before, loads of people like this book quite a bit better than I do. Probably because they don’t have an obnoxious Nitpicking Monster residing within them who shows up at inconvenient moments to ruin their shit.
The Highland Lords novels, in the order in which they were published: