by Elizabeth Thornton, historical (2009)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22832-6
The Scot And I is a little more heavy on the action than the romance, and no, by "action", I am referring to the main characters doing things normally found in a romantic suspense story than an erotic romp. But while on a typical day Ms Thornton is a good writer who can deftly tell a story well, and indeed this book boasts many of the same qualities that make this author's books a good read, at the end of the day this story is a bewildering morality tale on how a typical nitwit heroine will not only destroy one's well-planned schemes but only bring one's ultimate downfall without her meaning to.
There have been phrases coined outside the romance genre to describe a heroine like Mahri Scot. She's a "bliss ninny" if you look at the Flame Warriors website. Tabletop fantasy RPG fans will call her "stupid good". You see, Mahri is the kind of heroine who will be unable to get rid of the bad guy, protesting that it is wrong to kill a life, and you know that bad guy will show up one day and kill someone else, Saving Private Ryan-style. Someone else has to pay for the consequences of the heroine's inability to do anything smart, and you know it is always someone else but the heroine who has to pay the piper.
We are in Scotland, 1885, and we have a movement called the Demos that work for the seceding of Scotland from England. When Queen Victoria visits Balmoral Castle, our hero Alex Hepburn is one of the Secret Service guys lingering around the place. The Secret Service has been warned beforehand that someone will try to assassinate the Queen, you see. Alex has sixth sense (don't ask), and his intuition tells him that a particular beautiful blonde guest is worth keeping an eye out on, but even he is shocked when she draws a gun and narrowly misses him, hitting the guy behind him. She's that assassin! And she almost killed him! After her!
Actually, Mahri didn't miss - her target was the guy behind Alex all along. Yes, that guy behind Alex is the one plotting to gun down the Queen. Her father is the leader of the local Demos cell, which is how she knows of the plan. Because Mahri is naturally against the killing of any life because she's so beautiful like that, she has to stop the plot. Oh, but she also can't betray her father and his comrades to the authorities, because, you know, people are beautiful and a life must not be snuffed out, or something like that. But because Alex is a hot guy, she knows instinctively that he's not "that" kind of guy, so she's torn between a father and a hot guy she has known for barely a week.
If I am a father, I'd walk at the head of a pro-choice demonstration, I tell you, if I have Mahri as my daughter, fighting for the legalization of abortion in Scotland. She's that horrible a creature. The problem here is that Ms Thornton for some reason does not give Mahri a solid personality or even a reason to justify her actions in this story. Her father, for example, is revealed to be a committed member of the Demos because he doesn't believe in the wars England keeps dragging the men of Scotland into, and he is also bitter that his son died in one of these wars, led to his death by an English commander who was ill-suited to be a leader. While the end does not justify the means, in this story, I know that Mahri's father wants Scotland to be free of England's autocratic excesses and for the nation to be one where a person's rank does not automatically entitles that person to privileges. I don't know about anyone else, but the man's motives for being a terrorist are quite... reasonable.
On the other hand, Mahri is just an irritating fence-sitter who actively mucks things up by accident rather than by design. She can't commit to one side, which is annoying enough, but her rationale for her actions seem to boil down to one thing: "It is wrong to take a life, regardless of any circumstances!" Does she show any loyalty to England? No. Do I get to know why she does not share her father's beliefs? No? Mahri just wants to see nobody dead.
When she has the chance to escape the hero and therefore protect her father, she doesn't, lingering around to make sure that this big brawny man doesn't die from a blow in the head. The consequences are predictable. Remember, she can't bear to see anyone dead. She also knows instinctively that the hero is a good man, despite the fact that he's a Secret Service guy who will want to capture her father, because he doesn't look like "that kind of man". Only ugly people are evil, I guess. Mahri spares no such charity toward her father. [spoiler starts] She pulls a truly stupid stunt late in the story, which results in her father dying to protect her because she's too stupid to run when he tells her to. And yet, she gets more worked up over the thought that her dog may be dead! What happened to Miss All Life Is Beautiful, huh? [spoiler ends] The fact that Mahri ends up happily betraying her father for a pretty face she has just known only paints her as a shallow twit who doesn't know what she wants in life, but alas, she doesn't hesitate to poke her nose into where it doesn't belong and muck things up for everyone as a result. Fortunately for the hero, his plot armor prevents him from being another collateral damage in Mahri's quest for world peace.
As for Alex, he's a standard spy hero in this kind of story. The best thing I can say about him is that he is clearly more intelligent than the romance heroine. But that just makes him a generic guy, doesn't it?
This story would have worked if Ms Thornton had made Mahri a more mature woman with clear, strong stance that opposes her father's and let me know clearly why she feels this way. Instead, the story sees Mahri spectacularly bringing about the ruination of the plans of both sides in her attempts to make sure that both sides don't kill each other, and it is only the hero's plot armor that prevents him from sharing the fates of the other poor fools who end up humiliated and even dead from Mahri's attempts to win the Nobel Peace prize in her typical "I can't think, but who cares about thinking? I am buxom and I have the enthusiasm!" romance heroine manner. Yucks.
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