by Donna Grant, historical/paranormal (2010)
St Martin's Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-38122-6
Donna Grant is not a new author, according to the biography in this book, so I'm rather taken aback by how Dangerous Highlander often seems to have been written by different authors who didn't check to make sure that their efforts are cohesive. The heroine, especially, is very inconsistent as a character - she seems to morph into different people from chapter to chapter. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me talk about the story a bit first.
Dangerous Highlander is the first book in a series called Dark Sword. We are introduced to a bunch of guys who contain ancient and destructive gods within their bodies. It's a long story. You see, when the Romans were running over the Celts back in the really, really old days, the Celts begged the Druids for magical assistance. The good Druids, called the mie, are like, "Fie! Mie no like evil magic, so nay to you!" However, the more, er, opportunistic Druids called the drough, are more amenable - they summon the ancient gods which proceeded to use the mightiest Celtic warriors as hosts. These gods proceeded to wreck carnage, first on the Romans, and when the Romans were completely wiped out, then on the Celts, heh. Finally, the Druids combined managed to contain the gods, allowing their hosts to control these gods somewhat, and from then on, each future generation of the original hosts carries these gods inside them. Oh, and they are also long-lived.
In this series, we have a villain, Deirdre, who wishes to amass her own army of gods in order to run the world. What, you think the author will have a male villain? Don't be silly, this is a series. Characters with penises cannot be wasted on any roles that will not allow them to star in a romance novel of their own, duh.
Naturally, all these guys who host the gods inside them are tall, muscular, gorgeous, blah blah blah. Maybe having a god inside you - in a non-dirty way, of course - has some pretty good side effects, hmm.
The hero of this story is Lucan MacLeod. I have to hand it to Ms Grant, it takes huge brass to write a series about immortal Highlanders and have a hero named Lucan MacLeod. He and his two brothers Quinn and Fallon have been cooped up in their castle for 300 years after having escaped Deirdre's clutches. One day, our heroine, Cara, goes off to pick mushrooms by the road of the castle. She is daydreaming happily as the hours tick away, until she's caught in a storm. When her precious necklace almost falls off a precipice, she hastens to let nature takes its course on women too idiotic to live... guess who saves her.
As Lucan and Cara touch each other's world with their fingertips, we soon learn that Cara is actually harboring Special Powers and all those monsters assaulting Castle MacLeod are after her as well as the Brothers MacLeod. As Freddie Mercury croons dramatically in the background that nobody wants to live forever, Lucan wonders whether he can chain Cara to his side when he's carrying the god of revenge inside his Chippendale stripper body. Has the world set aside only one moment for them? Can the Princes of the Universe ever find a woman to love?
On the bright side, Cara and Lucan actually have some pretty potent chemistry, I feel, and there is even a startling and unexpected sense of poignancy to their otherwise routine angst-ridden drama. I'm a veteran of many of such romances, and I'm pretty jaded as a result, but Ms Grant manages to have Cara and Lucan crack a bit at the ice in my cynical heart and make me want to see them both make it to the finish line. And when you consider how many times I keep snorting whenever Ms Grant makes a reference to Lucan's "painful" or "swollen" or "aching" gonads every time he's with Cara, that's actually a pretty impressive feat, getting me to care for the main characters at the same time that I wish the author has found a less crude and monotonous way to describe Lucan's permanent chubby. After a while, I have to question whether the constant pain is due only to lust. Are we sure that there's no tumor growing somewhere in there? Anyway, the fact that Ms Grant manages to make me care is the reason I keep reading Dangerous Highlander despite its two main flaws.
One flaw is that the villain is too silly to be taken seriously. Deirdre, like all cartoon female villains in romance novels, is not sinister or dangerous. She's just a skanky whore who wants it everywhere. She and her skank-bang crew are so inept, they function merely as punching bags for the Brothers MacLeod when the guys need to flex those muscles while Cara needs a break from Lucan's constantly rampant and pained chubby. I can never care for the subplot because the villains' ineptness makes the whole thing devoid of suspense or even the possibility that the good guys will be in genuine danger at any point.
The second flaw is the inconsistent characterization of Lucan and Cara. Lucan keeps blowing hot and cold when it comes to Cara that he comes off like someone who can't make up his mind. But perhaps one can justify this by attributing it to his conflicted emotions about wanting Cara even as he doesn't want her to be chained to a monster for the rest of her life. But nothing, I feel, can excuse Cara's very inconsistent character. She starts out as a ridiculously idiotic Healer Dingbat type who cries at the drop of a hat. Then she transforms into a sage mother, psychoanalyzing the Brothers MacLeod with uncanny accuracy and saying the appropriate things to soothe their raging emotions. And then she's back to being the biggest idiot of the land as she flees the safety of the castle without any arms, knowledge of where she should go, or even provisions. Next, she's back to being Oprah Winfrey, telling the three brothers to understand each other's feelings. Meanwhile, she wants to have sex - craves it - without paying any concern to protection or the consequences of such unprotected sex, despite being an orphan in the 1603. Throughout this display of Cara's multiple personalities, she always speak like a modern-day person. It doesn't help that the author uses phrases like "sex appeal" in her story. Cara comes off like a bit of a host herself - she's housing at least five different personalities inside her body, one of them being a woman from the 21st century.
At the end of the day, my impression of Dangerous Highlander is that it has the potential to be a great book, just like how the series has some potential to be very interesting in the future if the author does things right. But the author's inconsistent characterization and her reliance on tired and flat played-out clichés prevent this one from being anything more than a merely decent read. I don't regret reading this book, but I can't say I'm bowled over by it either. It's okay, and that's about it.
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