by Karen Ranney, historical (2001)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81300-9
One Man's Love starts with a prologue which tells of 11-year old Alec Landers' visit to Gilmuir, Scotland with his Scottish mother. In two months of carefree abandon, he runs with his newfound friends and falls in love with his cousin Leitis MacRae. At least I think she's a cousin - I don't want to try to untangle the convoluted family trees of Scottish clans and end up snared screaming within those roots. The holiday that year ended on a horrific note, however, when his mother is brutally raped and killed. Alec ends up not just distancing himself from his Scottish roots - he rejects it altogether.
In Chapter 1, it's 1746 and Alec is back in Scotland. This time, however, he is no longer Ian MacRae but the Butcher of Inverness, responsible for the massacre in Inverness that is eclipsed only by the butchery at Culloden. It's a bitter homecoming for him, a man who hides his Scots blood from his English army colleagues and superiors.
Leitis MacRae is still alive, even if none of her male kin is. Except for an uncle, Hamish, who stupidly endangers what's left of their people with his one-man defiance. When Alec rides in just to time to stop Leitis from being beaten by the then-officer-in-charge, he recognizes her as the girl he kissed once. She doesn't he though. He finally takes Leitis hostage in return for Hamish's good behavior.
There's a lot more going on here. Trust Karen Ranney to write a story that doesn't one-sidedly glorify the defeated Scots - she exposes the weaknesses as well as strengths of these people. The hero is more than capable to play the part of a man torn between both worlds Scottish and British, but unfortunately, the heroine is irritating.
Alec is a wonderful hero - he discovers too late that he has been hating the wrong people for so long, and he tries to mend the damage by playing Robin Hood, creating an alter ego called Raven that help aid the MacRaes to flee Gilmuir. His increasing affections for Leitis during their quiet times together are beautifully done. The author manages to bring out Alec's isolation from both his Scottish and British heritages and the man's loneliness so well that it hurts to read of the man's memories of his mother and the way he increasingly place Leitis on the pedestal he reserved for his mother. Here is a tortured yet noble man who just wants to save the world for all the right reasons. A hero, if you will. *sigh*
But Leitis! In the first chapter, she wants to march up to the British stronghold to demand that her uncle Hamish is released. Fine, she wants to do that, I'm all for it. But she has to drag a mother who is raising an infant, an old lady, and a few others into her kamikaze mission. In this way, she is no better than Hamish who endangers everyone around him just to placate his own wounded pride. I have a hard time not wanting to throttle her for her extreme selfishness and stupidity. Worse, she and the ragtag Dirty Dozen (okay, less than a Dozen) stumble upon the British soldiers in the midst of a cleaning campaign initiated by Alec. Which is, basically, hundreds of naked soldiers prancing about.
So here we have a small group of women and one incompetent man in a British fort full of hard-up naked soldiers who probably haven't had sex in months. What is the most logical action next? I don't know about you, but I will run home and dial Xena's hotline and ask her to bring reinforcements along with her. For these mumus, Alec have to come to the rescue before the inevitable happens.
At this point, I have Leitis nicely branded on her forehead with a neon sign: Not only is this woman too stupid to live, she has to endanger everyone else around her. Hello, lunacy.
She doesn't display any capability of rational thought throughout the story until somewhere around page 233. Even then, her rational decisions then are drummed by Alec under the guise of Raven. Oh yeah, Leitis is in love with Raven, not knowing he is Alec. Anyway, what I am saying is that this woman, on her own, seems capable only of mustering stupid, reckless bravado or irrational tantrums when she should know better. It is Alec who have to slowly guide her into doing the right things.
Indeed, it is through Alec that the story comes to life. Ms Ranney gently weaves in the theme that sometimes, courage isn't just standing up to the enemies. It also means enduring and surviving, for sometimes it is harder to live in defeat and shame. Leitis learns that, I think, around page 233. After that point, the story becomes an exciting tale of escape and romance amidst danger.
But all in all, One Man's Love, while a cut above most of what I have been reading lately, has its whatever virtues ruthlessly undermined by a heroine who is just too petulant and hotheaded for too long. Alec is a wonderful hero, but Leitis is an awful heroine. They cancel each other out, and the result is a well-written, emotionally involving book - emotionally involving in that I feel equal parts of irritation as well as tenderness.
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