Berkley Sensation, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-25467-7
Historical Romance, 2013 (Reissue)
I classify this book as “historical romance”. but that is because that is what it said on the spine of Sound of the Heart. This book is related to Genevieve Graham’s previous effort – Dougal MacDonnell, our hero here, is the brother of the hero of that book – but it can stand alone just fine. The thing is, while the romance here even have a more traditional structure (the characters spend more time together), the emotional connection is far less intense, mostly because the story focuses so much on the hero’s story and the heroine’s existence is basically an extension of that story.
Dougal, like his brother Andrew, has some psychic abilities, but woo-woo is not the dominant aspect of this story. He is captured during the battle of Culloden, after having seen his father cut down before his eyes, and he has no idea whether his brothers are alive or not at that point. His time in prison acquaints him to “Aidan” (not in that way, so don’t get too excited), and they have many adventures together before he discovers that “Aidan” is actually a woman – Glenna, who disguised herself as a boy to fight. Before he and Glenna can explore their relationship in a new sexy but non-gay way, she is torn from him and sent – literally – across the ocean. Oh no, will Dougal ever see his true love again?
The synopsis sounds like it’s a tale of two people, but the story is actually focused on Dougal. It’s all about what he does, what he thinks, what he feels. When he discovers that Aidan is a woman, it is long into the story, and the jump from male camaraderie to “my buddy has a vagina, yeah now I can totally boink her!” is abrupt and rather unbelievable. I guess it’s not just not possible for a man and a woman to share the same air and room without falling in love and wanting to boink?
More interestingly – or disappointingly, depending on how you look at it – “Aidan” is pretty decent in pulling “his” weight, but once Glenna makes her official appearance in this story, “he” becomes “she” in the most stereotypical manner. When Glenna gets her point of view in the last quarter or so of the story, she just spends most of her time sighing over how much she loves Dougal and how she can certainly not survive without him. Dougal feels the same way, but he is doing something like a manly man would. She is just… there. It’s a most disappointing transition. As a result, Glenna never feels like a character in her own right. Her role in this story is to basically complement whatever Dougal is doing, from accomplice to love interest without any depth or personality to call her own. In fact, her femininity in this story turns her a victim – as a boy, she is a green lad who can hold her own, but as a woman, oh no, here comes the rapist and what not! Even after the hell she went through, she can’t – doesn’t want to – really kill the evil meanies… maybe she can knock him out a bit? Ugh, what a stereotype. That sound you hear is my snort of disgust.
On the other hand, Sound of the Heart is a pretty good read if I look at it as a tale of a man’s adventures. It’s like those cowboy stories by Louis L’Amour, only this time we have a guy from Scotland. The pacing is solid, Dougal is more than adequate as the action hero protagonist (although I find him a bit bland sometimes), and he naturally gets the girl after making a grand scene of being the hero everyone is waiting for. When things are suspenseful, I am at the edge of my seat. When things are maudlin, I… okay, I roll up my eyes, but that’s mostly because Glenna is such a disappointing cliché once she decides to stop pretending to be a boy. Dougal isn’t the most original character as well, but at least he fills in the brooding action hero role pretty well.
Sound of the Heart is pretty entertaining, all things considered, and I’ve had fun. But as I’ve said, if you want to read this book, you should adjust your expectations a little first. This is a solid tale of a man against the odds, but it delivers a pretty weak romance.