Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21062-X
Historical Romance, 2003
The heroine of Susan King’s Kissing the Countess is one of those eternally spineless, happily long-suffering, silently stoic, supremely selfless “I wanna save the world” types that either thrill you to bits or bore you silly until you long to drink a jug of cow blood just to get rid of the bad taste in your mouth. Guess which camp of readers I fall into.
Catriona MacConn’s path to martyrdom is set when she witnesses the clearing of her people – the Highlanders – by the Earl of Kildonan. Because her father is the local preacher, she is spared from the fate that befell the others, so now she will be guilty forever even as she sets herself as a collector of songs of the Highlanders. This, of course, means that our ethereal heroine will burst into song now and then like a fragile nitwit that escaped from the loonybin asylum.
Our hero is the son of the laird that ordered the Clearing. Today, Evan Mackenzie is the new Earl and he returns, reluctantly to the place where he opposed his father years ago. His mountain-climbing activity hits a glitch and Cat, in saving him, ends up compromising herself. This allows Cat’s aunt to browbeat Cat’s spineless father into sending Cat away from the house, a fate Cat resists only because she then can’t collect and record songs in the area, boo-hoo-hoo. Evan is rightfully disgusted with the entire MacConn family and offers to marry Cat. What do you think Cat says to that? If you think that she happily agrees to a fate that means she is marrying not for love (even as she protests that love is not for her), you are new to the genre, I guess. Welcome aboard. Now put down Kissing the Countess and go read something else before you end up as bitter as me.
He has baggage, she has secrets, they fall in love, she wails that she can’t love him even as she laments that he doesn’t love her, et cetera – this is such a tedious and predictable tale. Cat behaves just like every formulaic template martyr idiot out there, right down to her painful whinings about why people don’t love her when she lies down and let them walk all over her. Evan is a familiar hero with whiny pro-Highlander baggages plus the guilt thing as well. Everyone here seems melodramatically stricken with grief and guilt while finding excuses to prolong their blues, especially Cat that makes self-inflicted misery an artform to behold. If these characters are a little bit smarter and start thinking instead of putting on that martyr front like a twisted instinctive reaction, this story will be so much shorter and more pleasant to read.