HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-78966-5
Historical Romance, 2016
Margot Armstrong was only a young girl when her father practically told her that it’d be marriage to Arran McKenzie, soon-to-be baron, or else. Her stay at her husband’s place in Scotland was miserable, mostly because her husband generally ignored her when he wasn’t horny, his people were rude to outright hostile to her, and the whole place was so alien compared to the life she was used to. She fled without a word, leaving behind a sullen husband who was forced to use rumps of other women as body pillows in her absence. He claims that there has been no mistresses in his life since Margot left him, but something tells me he’s using the Bill Clinton way of defining his relationships with other women in this context, heh.
That was then. Today, her father once again tells her to back to hubby or else. This time around, there are rumors that Arran is courting alliances with enemies of Queen Anne, so it is up to her to uncover evidence of treachery and report it to him. Our dear is out of her league, however, and Arran understandably is suspicious of her suddenly showing up again at his place after having vamoosed without a word all this while.
Wild Wicked Scot is an entertaining, well put together story, although the back cover synopsis is a bit misleading: this is not a story that is heavily focused on espionage. In fact, it turns out to be a fairly typical Highland romance, complete with dogs and that surly coot in the castle who doesn’t trust our heroine at all. In this case, the author does a pretty good job in turning things around a bit so that the whole setting doesn’t feel too much like a by-the-numbers rehash. For example, the mistrustful bloke and his sister, an otherwise typical archetype who doesn’t treat our heroine too well, do have a valid reason to suspect our heroine – she is, after all, a spy sent by her father.
But the most compelling thing here, I feel, is Margot. She’s naïve and out of her depths here, but that’s in line with what she is – a young lady of her time who is not included in the conversations of the men around her, so she is not very familiar with matters related to politics. As a result, she walks right into all kinds of mess without fully comprehending the big picture. But she is not stupid, however, and she tries her best to keep her head up no matter what happens. I like that. Julia London can create fine flawed heroines when she puts her mind to it, and Margot is one of those heroines.
On the other hand, Arran is unfortunately quite the lummox. Margot describes him as all brawn, and unfortunately, she’s right. Unlike Margot, Arran is incapable of anything outside of one-track thinking. It soon becomes apparent that he and his people are doing well because of the people he surrounds himself with. That bloke I mentioned earlier, Jock, and his sister are the ones that actually listen to Margot and piece together the plot that threatens to overwhelm them all, when all Arran wants to do is to banish the heroine without even trying to understand what is happening. Without those two advising Arran, they would all be in one fine pickle, I tell you. Arran lacks the ability to think and make decisions once his emotions are roused, and this makes him come close to being someone who is easily led by his little head as well as his emotions.
Not that he is a cruel or terrible man, mind you. He’s just… thoughtless at times, being the obtuse oaf that he is, and he often assumes that, just because he’s content, the wife must be content too when he doesn’t even bother to check or make sure that he is correct. The fact that he insists that Margot marrying him is a choice she made, despite her protests to the contrary, should tell you what kind of, er, not-so-sharp person he is.
Because of Arran being the way he is, the romance is the least interesting aspect of this story. It only becomes more romantic in the conventional sense very late in the story, when Arran finally admits to himself that he can’t imagine not having her in his life, and starts behaving like it. I’m more interested in Margot’s efforts to make the best of her situation, and I love how she insists on holding on to her convictions despite the browbeating she receives from Arran and his people. She believes in her father, but not blindly enough that she’s forsake coming up with back-up plans just in case. When faced with the facts that she has been wrong, she already knows whom to turn to for help and how to go about doing it. She’s just so adorable, I tell you.
In many ways, Wild Wicked Scot would have worked better as a heroine-centric story than a romance. Still, Arran does have his moments, and the author sells me the happy ending very well. I could do without the epilogue, personally, as the last chapter ends on a happily for now note that, I feel, is just perfect for the story after all that is happened. The uncertainties, the political tension, the divide between her people and his – all of these still stand, so the sweetness-and-sunshine epilogue ends up trivializing these things and make the happy ending feel… not as precious anymore, if I am making sense here. Still, the whole thing has been a blast to read, so here are my two thumbs up and four oogies on top of that.