by Judith James, historical (2009)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-2433-1
I don't get it. Maybe it's because I'm lacking a PhD in history or maybe my taste is not highbrow enough, but I honestly don't get the fuss about Judith James. Her latest, Highland Rebel, has me scratching my head because all I get from this hefty story is a mixed bag full of clichés and contrivances. It also doesn't help that the first four chapters seem to be written by a completely different person.
Catherine Drummond is your standard Highland heroine - hoyden, full of hot air, but when it comes to walking the walk, she's as capable as a wet noodle. She takes part in a mission to rescue her brother - it's a long story - only to accidentally draw attention of the enemy to them. She is captured and would have been brutally gang-raped by the enemies if our hero Jamie Sinclair hadn't stepped in. Jamie is an emotionless mercenary working for the English under King James, but this is because he had a terrible childhood, he doesn't care... you know how it goes, I'm sure, when it comes to heroes with sad childhoods. Well, he's not so emotionless after all when he decides to rescue Cat. He ends up marrying her because, you know, soldiers will not rape married women in times of war. It's true! They go, "Excuse me, ma'am, are you married? No? Oh good! Come on, boys, let's rape her!"
Jamie is certain that Cat is a harlot - don't ask - but he changes his mind when she decides to fight back against his pawing and fingering and what not in their marriage bed. I quote on page 41: "He'd suspected she was no camp follower when he'd fondled her breast and she'd hit him, though he knew even a tart could have a temper". Let's see, the woman had been nearly gang-raped, so when he drags her into his tent and roughly grabs her breast, and she fights back, that means she's a lady. Meanwhile, I'd expect Cat to be traumatized by her ordeal, but no, she's all about running wild some more once she escapes from Jamie, although she's of course unable to forget how handsome he is. She was nearly gang-raped and killed, her men had died, but hey, no big deal, because baby, that guy was hot.
These are all in the first four chapters. Add in horrid abrupt jumps of points of view and bad guys who are so, so, so evil in a cartoon manner; I'm seriously starting to imagine that I must be lacking at least a brain lobe if I am not getting what the heck it is that everyone is gushing about when it comes to this book.
The subsequent chapters, however, seem to be written by an entirely different person altogether. The head-hoppings are drastically reduced. The characters immediately morph into different people. Cat transforms from a braindead hoyden into a woman who is capable of a minor degree of guile and cunning. Don't worry, she's still lacking in the brainpower department. Jamie morphs from a supposedly amoral guy into a pointless male slut who sticks it into everything that moves. Seriously, this guy is pathetic - if he's not with Cat, he's sticking it everywhere else, and all because he had a loveless childhood. These two characters move around from the Highland to King's court and back again, bickering, arguing, fighting, and running around behaving like kids. And throughout it all, contrived conflicts arise. I hope you are not thinking by now, "I bet she catches him in a compromising position with some skank!" because that means you have spoiled the story for yourself, heh.
If the whole story coming off like a long and contrived attempt to produce a sanitized 1980s-style bodice-ripper isn't tedious enough, this story is pretty clichéd. From even the names of the characters to the predictable heavy-handed treatment of the hero's past as an excuse for his present behavior, the whole story is like, I don't know, the Ghost of Romance Novels Past or something.
You may object to my use of the phrase "bodice-ripper", but seriously now, I have rarely come across a book where the heroine gets molested as much as Cat here. Jamie rescues Cat and drags her into his tent where he grabs her breast and more. When Jamie is injured and delirious while Cat tends to him, he calls out names of other women while grabbing her breast and more. When they argue, Jamie can get so worked up that he grabs her breast and more. It gets to the point where I really start to feel sorry for Cat. She must surely be bruised all over! As for Jamie, I find his treatment of women in general in this story, coupled to his "only women of quality say no when I want to roger them" attitude, pretty disturbing especially for a romance hero in a story that is not supposed to be a bodice-ripper. Factor in his tendency to behave like a spoiled brat and I'm itching to spank that brat until he weeps.
Highland Rebel. Sigh, I don't get it.
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