March 2008, Renaissance Romance (Late 1500s Scotland)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061375438
Return of the Rogue had potential, yet nagging details continued to add up and left me with many unanswered questions. Usually, historical details don’t bother me too much. I understand how hard historical research can be – yet sometimes details, big and small, can’t be ignored. For example, I can’t seem to recall any barbarians troubling Scotland in the late 1500s. The English – yes. Religious turmoil – yes. But Barbarians? In the late 1500s?
Because of a family arrangement, Honora Tannach is intended to marry the heir to Laird Tavish Sinclare of the Earldom of Caithness. Though her father tried to betroth his daughter to Cavan, the heir, a year earlier, he rejected her. However, when Cavan disappears at the hands of barbarians and is presumed dead, her father seizes the opportunity to arrange a marriage between Honora and one of Cavan's younger brothers. At the end of the wedding ceremony, Cavan reappears. Surprisingly, Honora is only vaguely upset, and her surprise only mildly compounded by her abusive stepfather's claim that Cavan (not son number two, who actually took the vows) is her new husband...and others agree with his assertion. At this point, I wondered how Honora’s stepfather, whose origins aren’t clear, had the power to force her marriage to the future laird as he is not a laird himself and only appears to be a member of the clan. I don’t know if even the best of lawyers could have come up with the tricky wording of this marriage contract.
From the beginning, it is obvious that Cavan doesn’t want Honora as a wife. He’s just returned from a year of captivity at the hands of barbarians to find himself married. He fears he is practically a barbarian now himself and that Honora is too weak to handle the responsibilities that come with marriage to him. He is also consumed with the desire to find that other brother, who may still be a captive of the barbarians. On top of all that, they also must solve a murder.
Where to begin? I won’t mention the mysterious barbarians again…well, maybe not. Fletcher tells this story rather than letting her characters do so and what little dialogue there is qualifies as incredibly stilted. The reader is thoroughly immersed in the characters' loving thoughts about one another, but there is little proof of love in their actions. And, put simply, Cavan, seemed more grumpy than traumatized. Tortured is good - grumpy, not so much. The plight of the now-unwed brother, as well as that of the missing brother, sort of disappears after the murder. I’m sure their stories will be dealt with in later books, but I won’t be hanging around for the resolution.
Donna Fletcher’s Return of the Rogue had some potential in terms of plot and if the story were set a few hundred years earlier, I could have taken it more seriously. As it is, I’d have to recommend a pass.
-- Heather Brooks
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