With seven troublesome half sisters to marry off, Duncan, the Earl of Eads, has one problem: he's broke.
With the prospect of marriage to the pompous local curate, Miss Teresa Finch-Freeworth has one dream: to wed instead the handsome Highlander she saw at a ball.
How does a desperate lady convince a reluctant laird that she's the perfect bride for him? She strikes a wager! If she can find seven husbands for seven sisters, the earl must marry her.
Duncan has no intention of wedding the meddlesome maiden, and he gives her a deadline even the most audacious matchmaker can't meet—one month. But Teresa sets terms, too: with each bridegroom she finds, the earl must pay her increasingly intimate rewards…
And here is Caty B.'s review:
This is the first thing I’ve read by Katharine Ashe, and oh, I smiled to myself throughout.
That said, it will not be everyone’s tumbler of whiskey. It’s a novella with a plot that couldn’t happen, so if you need strict realism in your books or a long, uber-detailed story, this won’t do it. But for me, the mixture of the shorter form with the light-hearted plot was a good match: it was airy and fun and a bit like a fairy tale.
The heroine, Teresa, is admirable and a bit desperate, trying to invent a different future for herself despite facing the possibility of marrying the humorless local curate. She travels to London to investigate her feelings for a man she saw once years ago, but the man, Duncan, has Reasons for Not Wanting a Relationship. What he does have is seven unmarried, dowry-less sisters whose opinions about marriage ran the gamut from “I want a husband NOW!” to “Uh, no.”
So Teresa is all YOLO (only in a Regency way – One Only Lives Once) and she’s like, “I’ll get those sisters married for you, but in exchange, I want some favors that I can look back on with happiness at a not-completely-sad-life during my likely boring marriage to the condescending curate.”
By its nature, a book with a plot like that needs to move like the wind (unlike this review; I’m so, so sorry.) The pace was fantastic; I love a fast-moving book and this one worked for me.
I loved the dialogue (“I am a distant relation to the king and imperiousness is in my blood.”) The plot never tarries long on angst, even though there are a couple of deep issues woven throughout. I loved seeing the little touches in the sisters’ romances that let me know where the next suitor was coming from before the relevant sister did. It might have been difficult to suspend enough disbelief to make that plot device work in a full-length novel, because it’s mostly down to a series of coincidences, but in novella form it took on the feel of a wry fairy tale.
Speaking of wry, there’s also the tone. It was full of little shout-outs to the reader about the vagaries of romance novels. Duncan thinks that another man is being dragged to an epiphany about his feelings against his will, which felt like a delightful wink to the audience about all those heroes who have to beat themselves over the head with their own feelings for 300+ pages before they can admit they like someone. Later, a lady listening to Teresa’s story about the Earl says, “Do tell us that part again, dear, but this time make him a duke. I simply adore dukes.” Cue me snorting my beverage out my nose.
And this wonderful, wonderful line, when Duncan tells Teresa that she doesn’t have any shame:
“It’s true. I’ve never seen any use for it.”
Negatives: brogues and plot holes. Duncan and his sisters are Scottish, and Ashe chose to write out the brogue. I found that frustrating. I prefer to just be told the character speaks with a Scottish accent and then I can do the accent work myself (“Why are you watching all those David Tennant interviews on Youtube?” “…research. For the voices in my head.”) (Oh good, therapist fodder).
(Cue linguistics geek rant.)
Plus, you can get the brogue across by making certain syntactic choices and using key turns of phrase without making it difficult to read by trying to write out every little glottal stop. It’s a fine line between showing and telling when it comes to writing accents, but when you keep getting thrown out of the narrative because the attempts at spelling out an accent are so extreme, than the showing has gotten in the way of the flow of the story. To be fair, I think about this kind of thing all the time, so I may have overthought this.
(End linguistics geek rant.)
Lastly, there are a couple of…well, not so much plot holes as plot snags. It seems unlikely that Teresa’s ruse to get herself to London would work for several weeks. And those coincidences bringing the sisters together with their suitors really pile up. This didn’t bother me, though; I wanted something short and sweet with kind brothers and a gaggle of Scottish sisters and even an annoying curate who deserves love in his own annoying way. And hell, if you’re going to use coincidences as a plot device, go big or go home. The characters were enough fun (I loved Sorcha, the estate-managing, no-marriage-thanks-anyway-other-things-to-do sister) that I could ignore those plot snags.
The written-out brogue still annoys me, but that was really my only big quibble. The little plot holes didn’t bother me much, though your mileage may vary. I’m giving it a B because while there were a couple of issues, How to Marry a Highlander was as crisp and light and fun as a spring afternoon.