Highland Rogue

Tess Mallory
May 2008, Time Travel Romance (1710s Scotland)
Berkley, $6.99, 296 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425220427

Grade: C
Sensuality: Warm

Like many - maybe even most - romance novels, Highland Rogue is middle of the road. It has some fun parts, some boring parts, some aspects that work and some that do not. Basically, it's your classic C read.

In 1711 Scotland, Quinn McIntyre is a highwayman looking for revenge. The Duke of Montrose killed his father and brother, so Quinn decides to even the score by robbing Montrose and his guests. With his friend Ian at his side, he plays the bagpipes after each robbery, thus earning the nickname "the piper."

Half a world and nearly 300 years away, Maggie Graham receives a dream vacation to work on a Scottish archaeological dig. Maggie has long cherished a passion for both archeology and all things Scottish, but her goals were put on hold for years while she raised her younger sisters following her parents' death. Not long after arriving at the dig, Maggie wanders into an ancient cairn at night. When she walks out, she finds herself in unrecognizable country. Unfortunately, she is also right in the way of Ian's galloping horse. Quinn saves her, but at great cost; Ian is shot, and imprisoned by the Duke of Montrose. Exhausted by her ordeal, Maggie quickly falls asleep. When she wakes up, she discovers an extremely angry Quinn, whom she takes for a Renaissance Fair employee. They have words about the previous night, and both of them feel misunderstood and put upon. They separate, then get back together after Maggie tries to take Quinn's horse. It actually takes her quite some time (a third of the book) to realize that she is not exactly in Kansas anymore. By then she has already agreed to help Quinn see whether Ian is alive, escaped a uniformed pursuit party, and met Rob Roy.

Once Maggie truly realizes where (or more accurately, when) she is, she falls in love with Quinn in pretty short order. They fool around and have sex, and Maggie starts working as a maid at Montrose's castle. She finds Ian, who is still alive but desperately ill. Happily, Maggie had antibiotics with her when she left, so she is able to cure Ian almost immediately. Actually freeing him proves a little more difficult. Meanwhile, Maggie tells Quinn she loves him, but he brushes her off. They continue to have sex and trade innuendos of the purple prose variety. (My personal favorite was when Maggie told Quinn to stay out of her purse because it was private, and he replied, "Private? Take off yer gown, lass, and will show ye private.")

Things change when Quinn is seriously injured. Maggie can think of only one solution; she takes him to her own time, where he can be cared for in a hospital. Until he is taken to the future, he still has no idea that Maggie is not from his time. Suddenly he is faced with a host of new decisions. He's not sure how to function in a modern world, or how to respond to new Maggie. He is also plagued with guilt and worried about Ian. In some ways, Quinn and Maggie seem closer than ever, but he knows that he can never truly rest until his own past is resolved.

The set-up for this book is pretty fun. Maggie's Scottish enthusiasm is shared by many a romance reader, and there are some classic humor moments that work well. Maggie produces a stuffed, electronic Lochness monster at precisely the right moment, for example. Even better, in the middle of a heated sword fight, Quinn quotes a particularly famous line from The Princess Bride. It's all in keeping with the lighter spirit of the book.

Maggie and Quinn are unobjectionable, if not terribly exciting. Quinn is definitely more warrior than intellectual, but he's not a jerk, which is something. Maggie finds that she shows a lot more spirit in the past than she ever did in the present, so she gets a chance to grow as a character.

The main problem, as I saw it, was the book's pacing. The author spends a lot of time on some areas, especially Maggie's initial foray into 1711 Scotland, which is covered in great detail. Then Quinn gets back to the present with her and suddenly everything happens at lightning speed. We are told about Quinn's realization that he has traveled through time, but we don't get to experience it firsthand; it's told in matter of paragraphs, in retrospect. It almost felt as if the author wrote until she reached a certain point, realized she was coming up against a word count ceiling, and hurried the story along accordingly. Some judicious trimming in the first half of the book and considerable expansion in the second would have made a big difference. As it was, the difference was jarring, and really pulled me out of the story.

So it's your basic, average book. If you're a huge time travel fan, you might want to give it a try anyway, because basic and average is a lot better than horrible, and many of the time travels I've read in recent years have been total wall-bangers. If you're not a time travel fan, then this isn't really a book I'd go out of my way to read.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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