Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-12864-3
Historical Romance, 2000
The Black Knave is an arranged-marriage Highland thing with a The Scarlet Pimpernel element thrown in. It takes place in the aftermath of the slaughter at Culloden at 1746. Bethia MacDonnell, whose greatest (and predictable) regret is not being there by her male kin Jacobites in fighting the English scumbags, is forced to wed Rory Forbes, the reluctant Marquis of Braemoor.
Rory has a secret – he is actually the wanted outlaw the Black Knave, a man who helps Jacobite sympathizers elude the merciless laws of Cumberland. He has carefully caltivated an image of a wastrel to evade suspicions, and now he has to deal with a wife who insists on meeting the elusive Black Knave to escape her marriage. Oh boy.
At the surface, this story seems to have all the elements of an enjoyable – if standard – Highland romantic adventure. A hero with a bitter past, a courageous heroine who only wants to save her brother, political intrigue, and all the recognizable secondary characters (protective maid, the hero’s best friend, etc) one’s $6.99 can buy. But there are some plot aspects that doesn’t gel for me.
For instance, Rory treats Bethia really badly. He leaves her to his unsympathetic clansmen while openly telling her he is visiting a woman at the end of town. Bethia is alone in hostile environment, and she is one of the people he is sympathetic towards. So why such calculated cruelty? Can’t he at least tell his men to treat her with some degree of tolerance?
His reason is because he doesn’t trust women, after seeing how his Evil Momma ruined his Daddy, etc etc etc. But it is so hard to accept such hackneyed excuse for his behavior. It doesn’t make sense. Does he need to be so cold to his wife?
It is heartbreaking to see Bethia trying to hold back tears after being slighted again and again. She refuses to break down and expose her loneliness, even after she faces another stumbling block yet again in her attempts to make her marriage work.
It is also perplexing to see Rory without much qualms savage the reputation of his “mistresses”. He saves Mary from his brother’s rapist tendency, but he has no qualms in letting everyone believe she is his mistress. His reasoning – his best friend is ever willing to take Mary as leftov – er, bride, when Rory is done with his deceptions – sound silly to me. Likewise, he put another of his “mistress”, an actress, in danger with his behavior.
But I guess all should be forgiven since he is doing it all for Jacobite sympathizers and those women aren’t of noble blood, eh?
Why should Rory feel the need to overdevelop his wastrel image to the point of hurting his wife and “mistresses” anyway?
In the story, Rory is forgiven after he has bought Bethia a horse and lots of multiple orgasms. But me, I never warm up to Rory. He is too self-absorbed in his misery, takes others too much for granted, and apologizes too late too often.
There is also an annoyingly thick pro-Jacobite sentiment in this story. Like in the prologue, when Rory realizes he is fighting for t”he wrong side”. Uhm… wrong? Cruel, brutal, maybe, but wrong? How does he know? The Culloden slaughter may be horrific and heinous, but painting the Jacobites as saintly, courageous martyrs lend no credibility to the weight of the story. I feel preached at, and I wish the author has allowed me the chance to enjoy whatever love story she cooks up without shoving a “Save Scotland!” pamphlet in my face as well.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this story. I just wish the hero has learned in the end that his selfish crusade has hurt others around him, and that the heroine has stood up to him and tell him that. Or better still, have the two “mistresses” stand up and give him a hard smack in the face.