February 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency Scotland)
Pocket, $6.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 141652505X Part of a series
To Catch a Highlander is essentially a tale about a man who gambles away the deed to his home, his spunky daughter who schemes to get it back, and the ruthless but attractive man who possesses the deed, and can literally cause storms when he's angry. Unfortunately, none of these people are very sympathetic or interesting. It makes for a pretty lackluster read.
Red MacFarlane has always been a gambler. While his wife was alive, Red roamed the continent with her and their daughter, merrily playing games in every city. Since his wife was a teensy bit more practical, she managed to hang onto the deed to a home in Scotland that he'd won, refusing to allow him to gamble with it. That turned out to be a pretty smart move, because after she died and he and his daughter Sophia had been living in the home for years, he lost the deed in a card game (while he was gambling with Sophia's jewels). Sophia is slightly annoyed, but she has a great plan: They will make their lovely home look really awful so the new owner won't like it. He obliges them by taking a month to arrive, so they can busily coat the walls with muck, pry up floor boards, and replace all the good furniture with pieces of junk from the attic. They plan to add to the fun by serving the new owner completely inedible food and making sure all the fires smoke. They figure that he'll be so eager to be rid of the place that he won't mind gambling it away in another card game.
Unbeknownst to Sophia, Lord Dougal MacLean overhears one of her conversations with a servant, so he knows exactly what she's up to. Since he can tell she's pretty attractive, he decides to let her play out her little charade to see where things go. Once he really gets a good look at her, he knows that he's made the right decision. Sophia is the most beautiful woman he's ever seen, and since she's deceitful, she probably won't mind sleeping with him. It doesn't matter if his intentions are honorable, because she's obviously a liar and a cheat. An eye for an eye, right?
Events proceed about like you'd expect. They serve Dougal crappy food, which he pretends to like. They play some warm-up card games for Sophia's jewels. She and Dougal kiss. About halfway through the book, the author nonchalantly informs us that everyone in Dougal's family causes storms when they are angry. The other characters seem remarkably unfazed by this. I gather that this is part of a series, so maybe characters are more surprised in earlier installments. Anyway, when Sophia finally sleeps with Dougal he discovers that she is a virgin, which really ticks him off (and causes a storm). Who will win the house? Can Dougal and Sophia forgive each other for their mutual deception? Is this true love? Does anyone care?
Not really, and the problem can be summed up quite easily: These characters are not likable. I've been writing reviews for close to ten years now, and I often worry that I overuse the word likable. Sometimes I feel like I am damning the characters with faint praise when I use it. Since reading To Catch a Highlander, I have revised that opinion. It's a big deal for characters to be likable. It means you care what happens to them, and you're interested in their story. You want them to win back the deed, or find true love, or whatever. Now, these characters are not detestable - that would push the book into D range - they are just annoying enough to be monumentally uninteresting.
Take Red, who is a first class moron for losing the house. Granted, it wasn't an ancestral estate, but it was his daughter's home. And why was he carrying the deed with him, anyway? Who does that? For her part, Sophia is devious, and her treatment of Dougal is more than a little unethical. The reader might sympathize with him...if he weren't a complete jerk. He deflowers Sophia and has no intention of marrying her until the bitter end, when he offers one of the worst proposals I have ever read in a romance. Oh, and the storm thing? Dumb.
Really, the only marginally interesting characters are the servants who help these people, most of whom come across as loyal and resourceful. In fact, the book would have been far better if it had included some backstairs chat about what idiots Sophia, Red, and Dougal were.
That said, this book isn't horrible, or a wallbanger. But though I didn't want to hurl it across the room, I didn't particularly want to read it either. And I guess that would be damning with faint praise.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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