The Devil Wears Tartan

Karen Ranney
2008, European Historical Romance (1870 [Victorian] Scotland)
Avon, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061252425

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Itís been a long time since I reviewed an historical romance (or read one for that matter) and happily, the first historical romance after my long absence turned out to be a very good one. Karen Ranney is one of those wonderfully dependable buried treasure authors who seem to always deliver, even when the book has a silly title like this one does. I really donít like the title The Devil Wears Tartan. Maybe itís just my odd sense of humor, but I kept thinking of it as Dead Men Donít Wear Plaid.

Marshall Ross is the Earl of Lorne. He is handsome, wealthy and a respected diplomat. His latest mission was in China, where things went terribly wrong for the British. Marshall and his men were imprisoned and the Chinese tortured and killed a number of them. Upon his return, Marshall bolted himself in his home and there are murmurs that the reclusive earl has gone mad. Marshall still has obligations to his family Ė if he does not marry, there will be no heir and the title will die out, so he choses Davina McLarin, a young woman from a good family. Davina disgraced herself when she was found in flagrante delicto at a party and now, no man of good family will have her. Seemingly Marshall does not care, and since she has no other prospects, she agrees to the marriage.

On their wedding night Davina and Marshall experience a powerful melding of both body and souls, but the next day he pushes her back and retreats. Puzzled by his action, Davina pursues Marshall and insists that he talk to her. Even though he has fallen deeply in love with her, Marshall is reluctant to get involved because the horrors of China have not gone away.

Ranney's newest is a story of two intelligent and wounded people who are a perfect match for each other. Marshallís experiences in China are based on real life events during the Second Opium War, when British diplomats were imprisoned and tortured. Marshall suffers from guilt over his conduct during his imprisonment, although the reader discovers he is unnecessarily hard on himself. The worst thing though, is Marshallís fear that he is going mad. There are people who would like to see Marshall be put away, but Davina is no demure Victorian angel in the house and proves herself to be a formidable protector.

Davina is quite a wonderful character. She is intelligent and feels out of place in the social world. It was her curiosity - not any romantic yearning - that led to the fumbling sexual encounter that ruined her socially. Davina is very much the main character in this book, and while she is not the typical Victorian in her actions and feelings, she does not come across as a modern miss transplanted to the 19th century. She is most memorable.

Marshall is not quite as vivid a character and we get to know him more through other characters' eyes than directly. He is an intelligent man, and lovers of wounded heroes will take him into their hearts. He and Davina make a wonderful couple and their love scenes are memorable, tender, and moving. Karen Ranney is one of those authors who are adept at using love scenes to show the character's growing feelings toward one other. There are times when Iíve found myself skipping love scenes in some books, but not in this one.

The Devil Wears Tartan is an emotional and very satisfying book - would that all historical romances were as good. I love the Victorian period, I love a strong intelligent heroine, a good wounded hero and a satisfying love story. This book delivers all that.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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