Highland Bride
by Amanda Scott, historical (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61266-9

The latest book in Amanda Scott's The Secret Clan series takes on the Scarlet Pimpernel tale - the dumbed down nursery class retelling version, that is. For those new to the series, The Secret Clan refers to the clan of fae people that matchmake the humans in the stories. In this book, the Secret Clan plays an even more prominent role, reducing an already barely standalone book into a complete mess.

It really doesn't help that without the faerie elements, this book would have been a very familiar and lifeless tale rehashed a million times before in better incarnations. Barbara "Bab" McRae is kidnapped by a villain - who then promptly tells her all the details of his plans. Would you tell your victim all the details in your Grand Plot To Marry That Heiress For Her Money? Amanda Scott's plotting this time is right out of a Stupid Criminals' Handbook thing. When the villain proceeds to rape our heroine, Bab is saved by the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel dude, this time he is imaginatively called Black Fox. Bab starts seeing stars. While she fights claws and nails against the Scum, she is more than willing to be kissed by this Black Fox guy. In fact, she is already making plans to ride out alone the next day to seek out this guy. Yes, she's also being described as "intelligent". If only it's this simple, we can all quit our jobs, sit in the corner, describe ourselves as "millionaires" day and night and who knows, it may just come true and we really are all millionaires!

Unfortunately, at the same time, Bab treats Alex, Black Fox's alter ego, really badly, making her come off like a silly teenage girl who needs to do lots of growing up. Bab is the stereotypical "I wanna be a boy" nitwit who dislikes Alex for being the (supposedly) nerdy sort. She does grow up a little, but thanks to the author's way of handling her story (more on this later), she barely develops as a realistic character. As for Alex, his earnest and dogged determination to marry this woman puzzles me because he is already besotted with her even when she is treating him like a sore-infested dog who wants to poke its nose up her skirt.

There are two subplots here - one is a fae folk Claud who must matchmake these two or else he will meet a Dire Fate. Another is a prisoner of a galley thing. I still don't reallty know why the author chooses to put the second subplot in. All three subplots fight for space in this story, and the author chooses to switch from subplot to subplot every two or three pages. Not only does any subplot fail to gain any momentum during this story, also the switch in subplot gets really annoying because Claud's trivial agonizing over his permanently horny nature really distracts from the main characters while the ship galley thing takes its time to unfold. As a result, Alex and Bab barely have time to even communicate with each other much less to develop as characters. Even late, late, late towards to the end, mind you, and they still haven't consummated their marriage!

Still, I'm okay with this story if the author tells a great action-driven story. But every time the subplots change, characters spend time telling and rehashing incidents instead of showing me things. Villains and good guys face each other and launch into long speeches about how they will trash the other good. Instead of plots unfurling, what I get in this story are characters telling me things.

So many characters, so many subplots - and for what? Not one is even halfway decently handled, there is hardly any romance but hardly any action adventures worth crowing about to compensate, and everyone here just stand and talk (probably because if the author shows things, this book will be a thousand pages long). Is the faerie subplot necessary? Not really, I don't think so. I actually skip through Claud's silly story later on in a futile attempt to get into the other two subplots, and glossing over this subplot doesn't hurt the story too much. It's still a mess.

In the end, this book is a pitiful showcase of the consequences of an author biting off more than she can chew in a Jack-of-All-Trade story that tries too hard to be so many things but succeed in none. Maybe the author should take it easier the next book. Whatever she does, it has to be better than this one.

Rating: 47

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