A Highland Duchess
I admit to a certain degree of wilful ignorance. If I’m taking a walk and I see road kill fifty feet away, I’ll go past it and just not look. Now, to me A Highland Duchess is crammed with literary road kill, a series of circumstances and plot devices that are too over-the-top to believe. But as long as I ignored them and concentrated on the couple, the book was fine.
The romance itself is dandy: Widowed Duchess of Herridge meets Scottish earl, they fall in love, both behave honourably despite many obstacles, and the lovers get together in the end. I rooted for them because Emma and Ian truly are nice people who deserve happiness, and hey, I like a good star-crossed tale.
What bugged me? Everything else. Ian and Emma meet when he goes into her room to get back the Tulloch Mirror. What’s that, you ask? It’s semi-mystical object that Ian’s friend, who happens to be Emma’s late husband’s daughter, wants back (and I suspect I should be referencing madly with Ms. Ranney’s previous release, Sold to a Laird). Then Emma’s e-e-e-e-v-i-l uncle barges in and slaps Emma. Ian jumps out from the closet, hits the uncle, and scampers away with Emma to his house, where he holds her hostage in exchange for the mirror.
There they fall in love, but there are major obstacles in the way: There’s Emma’s bad reputation, forged by her late husband (who subjected her to sexual perversities), and Emma’s bad guy uncle (who wants her fortune and forces her to marry his blackmailer), and Emma’s craptastic present husband (the blackmailer). You want more complications? Well, on Ian’s side there’s his fiancée, his worthless second cousin, and someone who wants to murder Emma’s husband, all of whom stand in the way of Emma and Ian’s happily-ever-after.
Frankly, it’s ridiculous. Certain aspects, like the Tulloch Mirror, are so half-hearted they have as much life as a dead parrot. Other features are just too over the top. I couldn’t take any of it seriously, and combined, they almost ruined the book for me.
So why on earth am I recommending it? I told you, it comes down to turning a blind eye and making deliberate choices. I choose to focus on the terrific Victorian setting, Ian’s scientific pursuits, and the fabulous prose. I choose to qualify Emma as a product of her circumstances rather than a spineless dishrag, because who am I to judge? And I choose to engage in the love-at-first-sight, meeting-of-souls romance because Ms. Ranney’s execution is moving and sweet.
In the end, as always, I’ll leave it to you. You may or may not be able to ignore the fantastic circumstances surrounding our couple. If not, I understand where you’re coming from. If you can, then you just might enjoy A Highland Duchess.