Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29830-3
Historical Romance, 2015
I don’t know why they use different cover arts for the US and the UK version of Harlequin Historical titles, but for Terri Brisbin’s Stolen by the Highlander, the US version is comparatively tame. The UK version, which features the same models, sees the heroine in what seems like the act of unfastening the hero’s tartan. Needless to say, the UK cover wins this one, no contest.
The Camerons and the Mackintoshs are feuding, because this is medieval Scotland and it ain’t right until everyone’s at loggerheads with one another. Arabella Cameron believes at first that her biggest problem is to marry a Mackintosh for the sake of duty and for peace in the land. She can do this… she can do this… Anyway, it is not clear yet whom she would be marrying, as the current chieftain of Clan Mackintosh has no heir of his own and he would select one of his nephews, the cousins Brodie and Caelen, to be his heir soon. However, things get really messy when Arabella’s twin brother shows up dead, with Brodie’s dagger buried in the poor dear. Brodie claims that he has no memory of what happened after sharing a drink with the guys, but Caelan and his men reluctantly testify that they saw Brodie drunkenly quarreled with the man and stabbed that man before Caelan and his men could react. Brodie is banished from the Clan, and Caelan is set to marry Arabella… until Brodie kidnaps Arabella on the eve of the wedding to lure Caeran out and clear his name. I’m sure you can tell by now that Caelan framed Brodie to become heir and seize power. Oh, and Arabella and Brodie fall in love.
Arabella is a great heroine. Her father isn’t the kindest man, so she learned very early to know how to pick her fights and to play her cards cleverly to get things done her way without angering her father. She’s hopelessly out of her league when it comes to dealing with kidnappers and inter-clan plots, naturally, but she is a sharp one and can adapt pretty well as a result. What I like here is that the author allows Arabella to be like this without making her come off like some contemporary girl guide who time-traveled to the past.
Brodie is a bit more problematic in that I feel that the author had taken the wrong approach when it comes to this man. You see, Brodie weaves a plot where he puts many people, including Arabella and the people loyal to him, in danger, and it is a plot that pits Mackintosh against Mackintosh. It’s not a pleasant plot, naturally, as nobody is going to hold hands and sing The Parting Glass together. And yet, he constantly bleats about how he doesn’t want to put people in danger, blah blah blah. I get it, the author wants to portray Brodie as a good guy who is deeply troubled by the things he has to dogor what he believes to be the greater good. But yikes, Brodie appears here as someone who is a bit on the whiny side. After a while, I wish he would just man up and stop being so annoying, especially since everyone knows he’d just go ahead anyway despite his bleating.
Brodie isn’t so bad, though. The bigger problem here is the romance. The plot is too big for this book, I suspect, as the romance ends up being reduced to a couple of “kisses that just happen during heated moments” scenes before the two characters decide later in the story that they are in love, and then it’s an accelerated rush to the sex scene before the pages run out. This is not good because there are so many problems standing between Brodie and Arabella that the author really needs to show me why these two would even entertain ideas of snogging in the middle of all the drama. It doesn’t reflect well on Arabella that she would find her kidnapper hot rather than terrifying, especially when the kidnapper in question admits to being possibly the murderer of her twin brother. Regardless of what happens next, Brodie’s very act of kidnapping her would have destroyed her value in the eyes of her father as well as her future husband, and the repercussions for her could be… unpleasant, let’s just say. Yet, she doesn’t seem to realize this and instead makes out with Brodie. Likewise, Brodie seems implausibly clueless when it comes to what he has done to her. At one point, he reasons that she could marry another Mackintosh dude once he has taken down Caelan. Are things ever this easy? If he’s going to be a political leader, oh boy, I hope he sheds that idealism quickly.
Stolen by the Highlander is very readable, and the plot, while pretty predictable, can unfurl in a pretty exciting manner. It’s just too bad that the core of the story – its romance – is too basic and too reliant on the “Suddenly, love!” trope to haul itself to the finish line.