St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-250-31497-0
Historical Romance, 2019
Highland Crown is the name of our hero Cinaed Mackintosh’s ship, which brings him to our heroine Isabella Drummond one stormy evening to sweep them away into a romance of a lifetime. Okay, so the ship actually crashes into the rocks of the Scottish shore, leaving him barely coherent and conscious, only to be shot by a fellow who is eager to plunder the wreck. You may say that it’s karma, considering that our hero is a smuggler himself, but to Isabella, he is a focus of her new obsession after the death of her husband.
Our heroine is in hiding, separated from the other women of her family while seeking a way out of Scotland to America. Our heroine, who is the rare female doctor, was married to a fellow doctor who joined the movement to overthrow the oppressive regime. Well, the joke’s on him: he got shot when the British decided to violently suppress these rebels, and our heroine still can’t understand why the British are so heartless. Don’t they know that they should just nod, say “Pardon, ma’am!”, and hand over the government to the good guys the moment the good guys started singing the Scottish version of Do You Hear the People Sing? on the streets?
Fortunately, two men are instrumental in getting Isabella to where she is now, safe, but the moment there is a noticeable lack of male authority steering our heroine’s decisions, she quickly (a) takes in Cinaed to heal him despite her landlady’s protests that she is putting them both in danger, and (b) forces this elderly lady, Jean who has palsy, to uproot her life and join her as she and Cinaed both go on the run. Thank god our hero is here now, or else she’d probably find a way to get the other women in her family arrested too despite her not being physically with them.
One thing that is nice about this one is that it is one of the not-so-common historical romances these days that give this impression that the history here is more than just beautiful wallpaper in the hallway leading to the bedroom where our hero and heroine will spend their wedding night. Mind you, this isn’t entirely true either: the “history” here is more of a lopsided interpretation where every Scot is a saint and every British is a vile scumbag who only wants to defecate on the people of Scotland. Despite the fact that there are unsavory people on both sides in this story, our heroine still clings to this black and white belief – which, sad to say, makes her come off as smart of a turnip.
Indeed, one of my biggest peeves about this story is Isabella. Okay, so she takes the Hippocrates oath very seriously, good for her, but for goodness sake, there is a time and place for everything. No, not to her, though. The moment anyone looks even a little ill, she’s on to that person as if treating people were some kind of sexual fetish for her, even if this means putting her own life and those around her in jeopardy. It is one thing to run to her doom like a crazy train, but I cringe when she drags other people along with her, like that old lady with palsy who, oh dear, ends up playing the comedic sidekick sort here in a way that may make some people uncomfortable. Our heroine is a classic stupid good-lawful stupid archetype. and judging from how other characters try to discourage her or restrain her now and then, the author seems to be aware of this. Bizarrely, however, Isabella’s antics are still portrayed as a good thing at the end of the day. This is one woman who will pause in front of an incoming train to perform surgery on Adolf Hitler, and I don’t know if I want to know her.
To be fair, though, being lawful stupid and stupid good is par for the course when it comes to romance heroines, especially healer types, so perhaps the author is just playing by the formula.
By now, you’re probably looking at the three-oogie score and thinking, “Wait a minute…” Actually, Highland Crown is a pretty readable adventure story. The romance takes a while to get going, and even then, I can never be sure whether Isabella genuinely loves Cinaed or she has a complex where he is concerned. While the road trip and the twists and turns that come with it are pretty standard, the whole thing is still well put together to keep me turning the pages. Still, the whole thing has an over the top “Scotland forever, England can bugger off” feel and hence the villains are straight out of evil clown school – all of which do bog down the story into overwrought melodrama territory quite often.
I also like Jean, and a part of me would always wish that she had been the heroine instead. No, not as the romantic interest – although that would be quite interesting, I have to say – but as the female lead. Why not? She’s far more pragmatic and has a sharper wit than Isabella the brown cow with a healing fetish can only dream of.
Anyway, Highland Crown is alright – just alright. It has many chances to be more interesting than it actually is, but the author blew it the moment it is decided that Isabella is going to be what she is.