Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-125243-3
Historical Romance, 2009
Karen Ranney’s A Scotsman in Love has an exquisite premise. Picture this: a grief-stricken widower, Robert McDermott, realizing that he is starting to forget how his late wife looked like and wanting to recapture her in his memory for the rest of his life, asks a tormented artist, Margaret Delrouise, to paint a portrait of his late wife from descriptions he will provide her. During these unorthodox “sitting sessions”, the artist and the widower will slowly fall in love.
It’s a haunting set-up, don’t you think? This is not something I come across in a historical romance every day. Unfortunately, the execution falls rather short of my expectations.
Let me elaborate on the premise a little bit more. Margaret, our heroine, was a middle-class artist who happened to be at the right place at the right time, her talent catching the eye of the Emperor of Russia and elevating her to the status of the Royal Court artist. For a moment, she was at the top of the world… until the world crashed down on her, leaving her emotionally scarred and nursing a bitter desire for revenge. Now she hides from the world in a cottage on the estate of Glengarrow. One day, the Earl of Linnet comes home at last from his own period of mourning and hiding from the world in France. When these two meet, they don’t exactly get off on the right foot. But eventually, he will want her to paint him a portrait of his late wife while she finds it too irresistible to turn down his offer and therefore miss out on the opportunity to explore the psyche of this man who fascinates her so much. Then we have the subplot about Margaret’s plans to avenge herself on the men that destroyed her muse as well as her life.
In a way, this is a recognizable romance by Karen Ranney because it boasts plenty of bittersweet character introspection. Both Margaret and Robert are so tormented and broken inside, they are not the most comfortable characters to read about. Unfortunately, I feel that these characters spend way too much time looking inside themselves and not enough time listening and talking to the other person. As a result, the romance doesn’t feel believable. Their relationship feels more like therapy than romance – both characters clearly need to talk and share their feelings with someone who understands, but that doesn’t mean that they are in love. To me, that means that they are in a support group. And that’s my issue with the romance: the two characters don’t seem genuinely in love to me. They like each other, they understand each other, but I don’t get this feeling that they genuinely know each other. When their wounds have healed a little bit more, I can only wonder whether they will find enough reasons to stay together.
Oh, and while Robert’s angst eventually gives way to a most beautiful kind of heroism as he begins to stop looking inward so much and start trying to heal Margaret’s wounds, I have to warn readers that Margaret isn’t as easy to like as Robert. She’s very caustic here, which is fine were not for the fact that she’s also a hypocrite while she’s at it. She says many cruel things about Robert’s grief for his late wife and daughter, telling him that he has grieved long enough, but at the same time she is unable to let go of her own past. She experiences a small degree of awareness about her hypocrisy late in the story, when she realizes that she barely practices the things she has told Robert in her usual caustic and patronizing manner, but all in all, she’s not going to win any awards for being likable anytime soon.
While I confess that I want to strangle Margaret now and then, I don’t have much problem with her personality. After all, I view her relationship with Robert more like a therapy session where she lets everything in her heart hang out. What I am disappointed in is how Ms Ranney builds up Margaret’s increasingly stronger doubts about her revenge plan, only to have the ultimate decision on whether she can pull the trigger taken away from Margaret by a twist of fate. Therefore, there is no pay-off to Margaret’s moral dilemma! It is as if the floor had fallen away from my feet at that point – I feel cheated, hmph.
A Scotsman in Love isn’t the best effort I’ve read from this author. If you are new to the author’s works and would want to give her books a try, I’d suggest starting with her older and better books instead of this one.