Review: Highland Jewel by May McGoldrick (2019)

Royal Highlander, Book #2

Heat Factor: Not so much

Character Chemistry: It works in that “let’s get married after we’ve talked 4 times” sort of context

Plot: I don’t even know what to tell you

Overall: Historical Fiction? Yes… Romance? … Ehhhh…

Holy plot labyrinth, Batman! 

Okay, I didn’t realize I was starting in the middle of a series when I agreed to read this book, but I was super confused for the first few chapters. Then I read the jacket and got on board but… The book starts with a prologue in Brunswick 26 years before the book takes place. We begin with the arranged marriage of Princess Caroline and the man who will become King George IV. Sort of. In that we are introduced to a little boy born of Princess Caroline’s first (secret) marriage. Forgive me for thinking that the story would be about the little boy. As I said, I didn’t realize there was a prior book. 

Then we jump to 1820. August. And the little boy who is now a grown man is there… married to another woman than the one we’ve been spending time with for the first chapter. Again, read book 1, because that’s the story of Cinead and Isabella. Isabella is Maisie’s sister, and Maisie is the woman we’ve been sympathizing with for chapter 1. She’s so miserable because her true love has been ripped from her and she must go on alone. Except her true love shows up at the castle, and she accuses him of attempting to murder Cinead. So, you know, really solid relationship there. 

Then in chapter 2 we jump back to January 1820 and the narrative progresses in a much more linear fashion. This is the point I stopped, said WTF is even happening right now, read the synopsis, sighed, and dug in. Here’s the thing: I hate this way of framing a narrative. It’s supposed to be engaging and exciting, but what’s really happened is that the story has been bisected. We always go back and then work our way to the exciting moment, at which point we get the second (and usually more exciting) half of the story. There is basically no better way to convince me that I’m wasting my time than to tell me something exciting happens and then make me work my way back to the exciting point. 

Case in point: I do not care that Maisie is a political activist or that Niall wants to marry her and live happily ever after because I know in 8 months they’re going to be in a castle in the Scottish Highlands, and Maisie is going to barge into a very sensitive situation and accuse Niall of trying to murder her brother-in-law with no thought for the consequences to Niall if she’s wrong when she does so. And I might have cared that Maisie is being the change she wishes to see in the world, especially because I love the history of the labor movement. But now I’m just really busy being pissed that she’s totally thoughtless. Here we are. 

Let’s get on track. All of the above is part of the plot labyrinth, but there’s so much going on one wonders just how the prologue ties into the political activism ties into the inflammatory scene in chapter 1. 

  1. The (future) Queen of England doesn’t want to get married and has a secret son who is sent to Scotland.
  2. The hero is accused of trying to murder the Queen’s secret son…
  3. …By the heroine.
  4. The heroine co-founded the Edinburgh Female Reform Society, which is a political activist group.
  5. Following the Peterloo massacre, Parliament passed the Six Acts, which basically makes being a radical reformer illegal. 
  6. Things are not going smoothly in northern England and Scotland. You know, because suppression always works. 
  7. We just can’t seem to let go of the Jacobite cause. Scottish rebellion!

I’ll say that it all ties together in the end. As a story, it all shakes out just as it should. But for about half the book I was wondering what I was supposed to be focusing on. Were we all about the secret baby plot? The plot that has nothing to do with the protagonists at all? No? So then the illegal activist plot? The plot that basically dies halfway through the book? I’m not sure if this book is part of a series sandwich or what. Because here’s the deal: Once we hit the castle, the romance story is pretty much over, and the Jacobite story takes over. That kinda sorta means that as a romance it might not hit the mark. As a work of historical fiction, Highland Jewel works pretty well. (There’s a BUT.) All of the history surrounding the events following Peterloo were well presented in the context of the imagined historical narrative surrounding the Queen’s secret son. That secret son aspect of the narrative even has the benefit of being based on a rumor that circulated at the time (probably because the King wanted to divorce the Queen) that the Queen had mothered an illegitimate child. We see things pulling together. But then for some reason McGoldrick has to insert that Isabella (recall the sister/heroine of book 1) is a university trained physician. In 1820. Umm. The first university trained woman physician in England wasn’t even born until 1836. Why spend so much time on the historical narrative and then throw all that research into doubt by adding such an out-of-context and unnecessary element?

If you’re not fixed on romance, then I’d recommend this as historical fiction. The writing is lovely. There’s intrigue and suspense. But as a romance, this one might not get the job done.

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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