Berkley Sensation, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21899-0
Paranormal Romance, 2008
That’s a really big nipple on the cover. It even looks swollen. I can’t stop staring at it.
If you remember the marketplace explosion of time-travel romances back in the late 1990s, especially how so many of those romances seem to share the template, you may find Veronica Wolff’s Master of the Highlands a very familiar book indeed. On one hand, this Highland romance doesn’t have aggravating dialogs that are an awkward mix of “ye” and “nae” with contemporary American English speech patterns. But the story is too predictable and as a result, it is pretty boring to read.
Lily Hamlin, our modern day heroine, visits Scotland, the homeland of her beloved late grandmother, for some soul-searching. She has many deep thoughts about how she has made all this money in Silicon Valley but alas, she is not happy. I wish someone would tell these annoying people that at least they have the money to take lovely vacations to places like Scotland to get away from their usual life. Shouldn’t they be grateful that they, at least, have the privilege and money to drop everything in their lives and get away from everything?
At any rate, she is also an artist, if she isn’t already enough of an emo, so she is wandering around the countryside of Lochaber when she finds what seems like an abandoned old structure that comes complete with a maze. She wanders into the maze and, yes, you’ve guessed it, gets completely lost. She eventually exits the maze… to find herself in 1654.
Our hero Ewen Cameron, whom you may recognize if you are familiar with the history of Scotland, locates her and takes her in. He’s a little different from the usual heroes in this kind of story in that he is aware that Lily must have come from a different time. His adopted brother Robbie came to this place via that maze too years ago. Ewen knows that Lily’s real identity must not come out or she would be burned as a witch or something, so he’s more than happy to help her adapt to the clan. Alas, she can’t cook, weave, et cetera, so the best he can do for her is to set her up as the nanny to his son. Who is, as you may guess, is the product of an unhappy marriage. The same old story, in other words.
The story follows a very familiar structure, right down to the apparently compulsory scene where the heroine decides to run away from the hero’s home only to find herself surrounded by ugly people bent on rape and more. Lily pulls off one or two subsequent foolish stunts and she also has a tendency to lash out impulsively only regret later, but on the whole she is pretty smart and she also has keen sense of self-awareness. Ewen is a familiar hero with issues about loving and trusting a woman again, but he is a pleasant and occasionally gentlemanly hero. There isn’t any exaggerated alpha bone in his body. He’s a man of authority, there is no mistaking that, but he doesn’t leer, swagger, or act like a boor of an alpha male. Considering the wretched heroes and heroines in the historical romances that I have read prior to picking this book up, Ewen and Lily are most welcome indeed.
Apart from the presence of too many clichéd scenarios, the story also suffers from villains that come straight out of the funny farm. They cackle, giggle, leer, sneer, and run around behaving so theatrically that they could be easily mistaken for Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, only with Scottish accent.
While this issue doesn’t bother me in this instance, I suspect that some readers may be bothered by the way the characters in this story can come off as very high-strung in their conversations with each other. I do wish that the author has cut down on the “you already know this but I will tell you anyway for the reader’s benefit” type of conversations in this story, but I don’t find the characters too hammy or high-strung. After all, they speak just like my favorite misbehaving lads in RL Stevenson’s Kidnapped tend to do, complete with dramatic flounces and gritted teeth, and I believe a part of me is still in love with dear Mr Alan Breck Stewart after all these years.
Master of the Highlands is a pretty decent, if often melodramatic, read. Its main weakness is its utter predictability to anyone who has read a few time-travel romances to discern the formula of these stories. If the author has shaken things up, the story would have served the likable and refreshingly communicative main characters so much better.