Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-233752-8
Historical Romance, 2016
The best of Karen Ranney’s books are those in which her main characters demonstrate such a strong bond that they could just stand side by side in silence and I would still be able to savor the way the characters feel so right for one another. That magic is here in An American in Scotland, but everything else is not so well cobbled together. Incidentally, there are spoilers in this review. I could use the spoiler bar, but that would result in a hideous-looking review with those bars everywhere. So, you’ve better stop reading now if you wish to read this book anytime soon without being spoiled!
Anyway, we have kissing cousins-in-law of sorts in this story. Rose’s sister Claire married Bruce MacIain, one of the American MacIains, so that makes her part of the family. Bruce owns a Southern plantation, and he treats his slaves more like cattle than humans, something Rose detests with a passion. In fact, she helped the slaves flee to the North, although she’s the only shocked when that resulted in the whole place falling to pieces. Bruce went off to fight the soldiers from the North, and left orders that the cotton of their holdings should not be sold. This means that everyone ends up starving. Rose has a great idea.
No, she won’t sell the cotton to just anyone. She would spend that all that she has left on buying a ticket that will take her all the way to Glasgow, Scotland, all on the hope that the Scottish branch of the family would agree to buy the cotton. Even if buying the cotton would mean that Duncan MacIain, our hero, would have to find a way to go past the blockade, but that’s okay, because if all goes well, Rose would hitch a ride back on Duncan’s ship, and if they avoid being shot down, then she would be back home with the money, and she would then win the grand prize for being heroine of the year!
This plan hinges on Bruce not coming back while she is away – which he does – because Bruce coming back would mean that he would just say no, he’s not selling the cotton, and all of Rose’s plans would be for nothing. Which he does, and he also kicks Rose out of his home for daring to go behind his back and sell the cotton.
Even better, even when it’s clear that Claire has no intention ever of supporting Rose against her husband, Rose still insists on sneaking back to her former home against Duncan’s wishes, and even better, dismisses the men Duncan sent to watch over her. Guess what, Bruce shows up to completely beat and choke the crap out of her, just in time for the hero to mount a desperate search for her as part of the obligatory “exciting climax” of the story. I actually cheer when Bruce starts beating Rose up bad, as that stunt of hers is the latest in her tendency to act on her own, often against common sense, Her initial plan is a flimsy one with too many uncertainties, but she goes ahead and does it anyway without thinking of what she would do should Duncan says no to buying her cotton, and the rest of her actions in this story are no better.
As I’ve said, Duncan and Rose have a pretty good kind of love story here, but I’m not sure whether that is enough to compensate for the head-scratching everything else in this story. Claire and Bruce are so, so evil and delusional that they are almost comical, so I have no idea why Rose keeps going back to get kicked by those two. Then again, given her decision-making skills, she’s not exactly the brightest girl around.
I’m also puzzled by the two black characters that hang around to take care of Claire and Bruce when those two treat them very badly. Rose sent most of the other slaves away, so why do these two stay? There is another slave that stays, but she’s very old so I can understand why she stays. But another woman blames Bruce for the death of her daughter, and yet, she’s not plotting revenge… so why does she stay? And why does that young slave boy stay too? Of course, from a storytelling point of view, the slaves staying is necessary to ensure that Rose won’t starve to death along with her sister, and the two ladies don’t have to clean dishes and do laundry too. But why would the slaves stay to be beaten by Bruce when Rose offers a way out for them? Do they like to be beaten and treated like crap? Or do they believe that the alternative – running – would be a worse way to live? The whole thing doesn’t make sense to me, because the author tells their story from Rose’s point of view most of the time, and only shifts to the perspective of the woman who has lost her daughter when it’s convenient for the plot. These black characters still end up being “salt of the earth” stereotypes to prop up the white heroine’s existence despite the author’s best intentions, making Rose leaving them behind for a happier life in Scotland even more of an “Okay, thanks for helping me, here is some money… now bye!” kind of callousness.
The romance in An American in Scotland is pretty good, but the plot is all over the place. If you want the romance, perhaps another of the author’s better book would be a better choice to read, as the plot would most likely be better than the one in this book.