by Karen Ranney, historical (2012)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202779-5
A Scandalous Scot is, like many of Karen Ranney's previous books, a study of flawed characters who manage to fall in love with each other despite - or perhaps, because of - the odds. This one is especially interesting, because the heroine Jean MacDonald is a maid. Okay, she has her "fallen to hard times" past, but she's not a long-lost daughter of a Duke if that's what you are thinking. In this story, Jean and the owner of Ballindair Castle, the "scandalous Scot" in question Morgan MacCraig end up getting compromised while she's trying to grab her sister before that sister pulls off a plot to seduce Morgan and become his mistress. Eventually, they fall in love. But there are plenty of emotional hurdles to overcome before they get there.
The thing is, A Scandalous Scot is a far better example of a character study than it is a romance novel. You see, for the first 100 or so pages, Morgan and Jean barely connect in ways that really matter. He's too busy dwelling on how he has failed - failed - everyone because he got involved in a public scandal and was deemed a social pariah as a result. He also broods about his faithless ex-wife to the point that she's more on his thoughts than Jean. In the meantime, Jean is busy scrambling to cover up her sister's messes when she's not putting herself and her aunt, the housekeeper, in a very uncomfortable position because the sight of Morgan apparently freezes Jean's brain. And when these two get married, it's mainly because Jean's aunt finds the courage to tell her employer how he has ruined Jean beyond the pale.
And it's Jean's reckless determination to protect everybody while making a mess out of everything that causes these two to be in that uncomfortable position in the first place. Jean is that heroine who is very earnest at doing good things only to bungle things up because she's nowhere as clever as she imagines herself to be. And it's quite sad - her sister is a self-absorbed opportunistic creature who takes Jean for granted pretty ruthlessly, and it takes Jean nearly the entire book to realize that it's pointless to keep being Catriona's doormat.
It's the same with Morgan - he takes nearly the entire book to get over himself, stop behaving like a jackass, and ditch his best friend. What's really sad here is that Morgan's best friend Andrew is the very man he's supposed to loathe: a man who dumps his wife in the country and ignores his kids while cavorting and siring bastards with every willing woman in the country. The male counterpart of his ex-wife, in other words. Perhaps Morgan is just being a man of his time, but the moral of the day for Morgan in this story is that Andrew is a useless friend. Since Andrew is very obviously a useless friend, and Morgan takes forever to come to that conclusion, he doesn't come off as too bright.
So yes, at the end of the day, these two are in love. But Morgan and Jean haven't shown that many romantic interactions to convince me that they can be in love for the long haul. Both characters are too prone to bouts of melancholic self-absorption, and they take so long to get over each bout. I can only suspect that these two will have a marriage cemented by joyful nights of staring mournfully at each other and sighing heavily.
There are some pretty passages here, as Karen Ranney always has a nice way with words. But the romance in this one is too much of a slow burn. A Scandalous Scot is an interesting tale of two emo emus, but as a romance novel it's nowhere as satisfying as some of the author's better efforts in the past.
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