Review

Review: How to Forgive a Highlander by Michelle McLean (2019)

Heat Factor: Medium-low

Character Chemistry: That thing where they argue and it’s true love

Plot: Accidental kidnapping leads to much bloodshed, but probably the bloodshed was going to happen anyways

Overall: Decidedly uneven

So here’s the deal. We have your classic Ye Olde Hottie MacScottie (aka William MacGregor), who sees a quintessential British Rose (aka… Rose) and MUST kidnap her for Reasons. Since I have a well-documented love for Old School Julie Garwood Highlander Romances, I figured this would be a good fit for me. 

There are definitely some expected things that this book does well. Specifically, if we’re reading in the Scottish Kidnapping subgenre of romance, we expect the heroine to get a bit saucy with the hero while also being uncomfortably attracted to his manliness, and I was not disappointed. McLean excels here, especially in Rose’s interior monologues, which are quite funny. For example:

What sort of fool was she, mooning over how strong he must have been when he carried her unconscious body to his wagon so he could abduct her?

Ha! But also: good question. 

There are also some unexpected bits to the book, which made it different from a standard rehash of the Scottish Kidnapping trope, and which added some interest to the story, particularly in terms of the conflict between William and Rose as they start to fall in love and try to imagine their lives together. To wit: William is not a lord, and Rose is not a lady. Rather, William is a vassal, with no holdings of his own, and Rose is a lady’s maid. They therefore have obligations that neither can easily jettison, as well as logistical concerns about where they could possibly live and both feel accepted. Who cares if the washerwomen won’t gossip with the new lady of the house who happens to be English? No one. Who cares if they won’t gossip with the new maid, who also happens to be English? Well, that might be a bit more uncomfortable for the parties involved. (Also – what is the historical precedent for lady’s maids getting married and keeping their posts? This doesn’t come up, but I did wonder…) 

Unfortunately, this potentially interesting source of conflict between William and Rose is hand-waved away without much discussion, which brings me to my main critique of How to Forgive a Highlander: that the book doesn’t pick an idea and stick to it. This goes for plot, tone, and the arc of William and Rose’s relationship. 

As I mentioned above, when Rose is first kidnapped, the tone is quite feisty and fun. But then – suddenly – we turn to ANGST. So much angst. Some of this angst is William, who insists, sort of out of the blue, that he messes everything up, and that all the danger that is coming to their friends is because he kidnapped Rose, and every time he tries to do something right everything goes wrong, etc etc etc. First: this comes out of nowhere, as he starts out pretty confident in his abilities, and doesn’t do anything remarkably stupid on the page. Second: there is no evidence whatsoever that the fact that William kidnapped Rose led to the Evil Bad Guy finding the people William is protecting; in fact, all signs point to the Evil Bad Guy already knowing where everyone is. William’s heavy burden of guilt doesn’t seem earned, and makes the actual mechanics of the adventure story component of the plot unnecessarily confusing. 

There is also angst about their relationship, which, ok, fine. But the correlated transitions in their relationship as the tone moved from feisty to angsty were not well-developed. The build from Enemies to Lovers is not bad, but then they are suddenly very deeply in love, but claim they can’t be together because they argue all the time – except they haven’t been arguing all that much since they started being lovers, because they’ve been too busy being angsty about their stolen moments of time together before their inevitable parting. (There’s also some Fake Relationship stuff going on, which just adds to the book feeling overstuffed and underdeveloped.)

A final note: this is the fourth book in a series, and it only sort of stands alone. There is a LOT of expository monologuing in the first quarter or so of the book, so that the reader is all caught up on all the different players and their histories and their nicknames and their fight against the Evil Bad Guy. Some of this is funny – William explains everything to Rose while she’s unconscious, and he’s carrying her to his wagon to complete his kidnapping – but overall, it’s tedious, especially since it happens more than once. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.


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