Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224249-5
Historical Romance, 2014
The Virgin of Clan Sinclair has a self contained plot, but readers new to Karen Ranney’s Clan Sinclair series should be aware that this is the final book in the trilogy, and the first half or so of this book features the couples from the previous two books heavily. You may want to be patient with these people.
Ellice Traylor’s brother was the late husband of Virginia Taylor, and all her life she has lived in the shadow of her perfect sister and let herself be bullied into doing what everyone around her wants of her. When her sister died of smallpox, Ellice’s mother managed to get the two of them settled in Drumvagen with Macrath Sinclair’s blessing. Away from the English countryside, Ellice draws inspiration from the more outgoing women around her into believing that perhaps, maybe, if she does something, she may actually stop being this mousy and forgettable person. You see, Ellice may be timid, but she has her fantasies, daydreams, and desires. She channels everything into a book she writes in secret, The Lusty Adventures of Lady Pamela. Lady Pamela is the daring and spirited woman that she longs to be, and Lady Pamela’s forbidden love affair with Donald is the kind she yearns for herself.
When the story opens, she has an idea. If she can somehow sneak away to Edinburgh and convince Mairi, Macrath’s sister who is also a publisher, to publish her book, then she would finally be someone. Women would secretly read and adore her book, she can embark on a career as a writer, and she’d be able to have a life away from her overbearing mother’s suffocating demands and expectations. Now, how would she get to Edinburgh? As it happens, Macrath’s friend Ross Forster, the Earl of Gadsden, drops by for a visit, and she decides to stow away in his carriage. Things don’t work as planned, and her book ends up in Ross’s possession.
Because every woman who shows that she has even a little interest in sex must be an adventurous slut who has done everything, the straight-laced Ross is appalled even as his pee-pee is intrigued. When the two of them are discovered in a compromising position, however, and it looks like he has to pay the piper, Ross is understandably reluctant about marrying the kind of woman who wants to write sexually explicit stories for a living. Fortunately, she is a virgin – hence the title of this book – so Ross is relieved. He paid the piper for a woman who turns out to be the kind you marry, after all! Unfortunately, he has been hurt by a now dead wife before, so Ellice needs to work it out if she wants him to be the Donald to her Lady Pamela.
The Virgin of Clan Sinclair is basically two halves from different books pasted together. The first half is an interesting character study of Ellice. She’s that woman who is content to remain in the background because she’s been browbeaten into doing so, and it is only recently that she is starting to explore her own desires and ambitions. It’s not easy, though, and every effort she makes to break out of her shell sees her also doubting and second guessing herself. Ellice is actually an annoying heroine – she babbles like an idiot in Ross’s presence, and gulps like a mute goldfish in every other situation – but her character feels so real that I can’t help but to root for her to discover and follow her dreams.
Unfortunately, the story morphs into something else altogether once Ellice and Ross are married. The arc of Ellice’s self discovery is tossed aside for a more familiar tale of a heroine doing her best to show the hero that she is worthy of his love. This is a typical plot line in romance novels, but here it is one that has its own unfortunate implications. Once she has her man, Ellice forgets about her own ambitions or desires, and focuses entirely on getting her man to love her. It’s disappointing to realize how, after all the work done to build up Ellice, the author chooses to abruptly transform Ellice into another heroine whose early ambition was just fluff to fill up her head while she waits for her man to come into her life. Another unfortunate development is how Ellice is constantly told that Ross “deserves” to be loved because his late wife didn’t love him. Well, that’s nice, but who’s going to love Ellice? Why aren’t these people telling Ross to stop treating the wife like some sex doll that should be taken out of the closet only when he’s horny? I don’t like this implication that it’s a woman’s job to love a man just because he’s been a loser in love before. He should earn her love – he is not entitled to it just because he’s a big baby who can’t deal.
Ross is a familiar big baby hero – he’s been hurt before, so now he is doing his best impersonation of an emotionless donkey. Ellice should have just bought a steel vibrator – it’d be just as cold as the man, but at least it performs on demand without making a drama out of the whole process. His relationship with Ellice is unsatisfying to follow because it is an imbalanced one. Ellice is too eager to please Ross and have his love, and she doesn’t have the willpower to stand up to him. As a result, the second half of the story is basically Ross jerking Ellice’s chain around until he realizes, gee, he kinda loves the wife after all, so it’s time for the happy ending. Ellice never really makes him work to earn her affections, while she has to work quite a bit to earn his.
I’m surprised the author allows Ellice to come off like an overeager child in this story, without that heroine doing much to grow up, because the author – perhaps deliberately – creates some parallels between Ellice’s relationship with Ross to that of Ross and his late wife. Just like Ellice with Ross, Ross built a fantasy of his late wife and fell in love with that fantasy. The real person could never live up to the fantasy, of course. Given that Ellice has her happy ending with Ross without her having to grow up and develop some mature feelings for that guy that aren’t tainted by her girlish fantasies, I can only wonder whether she’d end up resenting Ross some time down the road. As for Ross, I know he would resent her soon enough. I never get this impression that he likes Ellice much. He wants her to be sexy Lady Pamela in her book, she wants him to be Donald in her wildest fantasies. I don’t know whether they really know one another by the last page, and I suspect that they won’t like what they find should they start to know one another better.