My Highland Rebel
Cormac Maclean is a wannabe manuscript translator whose quest for knowledge leads him to many an escapade. When we meet him he’s ‘borrowing’ some manuscripts from a monastery in order to read them, for instance. Cor (and I have no idea why this contraction was used – I kept thinking “Cor, Blimey!” as I was reading!) would rather learn than party, making him the odd man out among his more brutish fellows. Red Rex, head of the clan and Cor’s incredibly awful father, is determined his heir prove himself a man – by stealing the templar’s treasure allegedly hidden in their storehold of the long-abandoned Kintoch Abbey. If Cor doesn’t do this, Rex will kill the monks from whom Cor stole manuscript and burn their library of irreplaceable books. Cormac, while not inclined to the sword at all refuses to let the monks die in the name of his father’s ignorance, and sets out with a small party to the Abbey intent on seizing anything resembling a treasure.
Unfortunately for him, the place is already inhabited by Jyne Campbell, whose family has purchased the abandoned abbey and its surrounding lands as her dower prize. The youngest of fifteen siblings and the smallest due to an early birth, her sickly nature in childhood left her on the sidelines listening to her siblings’ wild exploits. Yearning for an adventure of her own, she made up for her short stature by exploring her limited world but is often stymied by her brothers and father.
Jyne and Cormac first meet when Jyne’s wanderings land her throat-deep in a bog and Cormac – running away from the monks he’d temporarily relieved of their manuscripts – manages to find and rescue her before she drowned. Jyne and Cor are caught in an embrace by her brothers, who inform her father, encouraging him to pack her off on a tour of her lands to avoid tempting further trouble. Coming to Kintoch Abbey, they discover that a group of old folks and children from the nearby village have been sheltering in the half-repaired castle since plague ripped through the land and the able-bodied fled. When Cormac comes to pillage the abbey, Jyne stands against him in the name of these people, and he smoothly lies about not being the invader so that he can sneak his way into the stronghold. His knowledge of explosives from previous experimentation is applied to a gate and results in his claiming the castle. From that moment on – smitten with Jyne but wanting to impress his men and father – he plays a dual role before them all. As the invader, Cor keeps his battle helmet on and lowers his voice to conceal his identity – then removes it and sneaks away to court Jyne as himself in his spare time. As days pass and Cor becomes more entangled in Jyne’s life and the lives of the people at the castle, he begins to develop a loyalty to her. Will their relationship survive when Jyne discovers the truth?
While reading My Highland Rebel, my rating for the book kept bouncing up and down like a kid on a trampoline. Its best points involve some lively prose at the beginning, its inventive character ideas – Cor being a scholar and Jyne a feisty heroine fighting against the expectations stacked against her – and the interlacing relationships. The romance itself is fairly decent and rather sweet, if pockmarked by ignorance, which is what generally saved it from a D rating.
My enjoyment of the book was hampered by what he author chooses to do with ideas that seemed intially promising. Chief among them: Cor is, quite frankly, an arrogant dick at the beginning of the book who thinks his scroll learnings make him superior to most of the people around him – except for Jyne, whom he sees as an angel. Sure, he won’t hurt the helpless or the elderly, but he’s awfully hard to bond with under the weight of his superciliousness. And if he hates Red Rex so much, why does he yearn to impress him in the first place? Only when his dual identity begins to fail does his charm become more evident and does he slowly start to mellow out into being any sort of hero.
Jyne, meanwhile, is positioned as a firebrand seeking adventure and independence, yet doesn’t really rebel enough against her circumstances. Even though Cor, once he gets over his superiority, is a fine beta hero, it’s often Cor’s ideas that drive the plot forward and prove to be the correct answers to their dilemmas, leaving Jyne with little to do but be swept along by the plot.
Their romance is severely hamstrung by the fact that Jyne thinks Cor and his warlord opposite are two different people and she doesn’t figure out the truth for over half of ithe book . The way this charade plays out over a matter of weeks is embarrassingly ludicrous – . Cor’s soldiers think nothing of their commander constantly wearing a helmet in public, and Jyne doesn’t wonder how this neighboring crofter seems to have a similar childhood to the man she abhors.
Background characters are also flanderized; Cor and Jyne bond with a small child among the foundlings who has no personality of her own, Cor’s warriors are cardboard Stock Asshole Warriors who try to pillage and rape. The only standouts are Brother Luke, a monk-in-training whose life is saved via intervention and who lurks about the prose being annoyed by his lot in life and worshipping his books until Cor unlocks his tragic backstory. His romance with Cor’s hotheaded half-sister Brenna was a lot more fun than the slightly limp one between Cor and Jyne, and Brenna was wonderful when she wasn’t stuck being Jyn’s sounding board.
As for the writing, My Highland Rebel suffers from the classic Forester problems – it could stand to be trimmed by 200 pages or so, quite a few modern idioms manage to sneak into the prose, and characters fade in and out of ye olde English at random. In fact, the book has a lot of tropes and quirks that Ms. Forester sprinkles across her fictional landscapes; everything from the monkish virginal hero seeking the treasure of the Knights of Templar to the strong heroine whose leadership skills are mainly shown within the domestic realm and the phonetic Scottish accents have been seen in numerous other Forester tomes.
I love beta heroes. Science-minded beta virginal heroes are a weakness of mine. But it took me an awfully long time to warm up to My Highland Rebel and I really can’t recommend it.