On the surface, Abducted Heiress seems like a traditional period romance involving familiar elements such as warring nobles, an impregnable castle, and a guardian-ward relationship that spirals into passion. Thanks to a refreshing supernatural angle, the tale stands out. Too bad the same cannot be said for the hero.
The legend of Molly Gordon’s vast inheritance is well known in Scotland. Since her father died, Molly has been passed from protector to protector, most of whom have been more interested in her hidden fortune than her welfare. But so far none of them has found it; the secret of where it is seems to have died with her father.
When the king declares Sir Finlay MacKenzie as Molly’s new guardian, the arrogant laird takes her to his island fortress, where she quickly misses her old freedom and independence. To complicate matters, a fortune-hunting warlord plots to seize Molly, prompting Fin to propose marriage for her protection. Though she’s attracted to Fin, she finds herself unable to trust a man who hasn’t professed to love her, and who seems to be more interested in finding her inheritance.
(Un)fortunately for the beleaguered couple, household spirits secretly interfere in their affairs, at times preventing disaster or inadvertently causing it, all in the name of aiding whichever person they’re bound to serve. The transfer of Molly’s wardship, for example, has been orchestrated by Fin’s fairy, who believes that her fortune – if they could find it – would be beneficial to Fin. But Molly also has a guardian spirit watching out for her welfare. Things get interesting when the fairies engage in a battle of wills; the humans start noticing strange phenomena; and everyone gets tantalizingly close to solving the mystery of the Gordons’ riches.
The household spirits and their antics render a touch of humor, an auspicious start for Scott’s Secret Clan series. Unlike other romances with a magical element, these fairy-like creatures don’t simply make a handful of ghostly appearances, which are as irrelevant as floridly described scenery. Though you occasionally get the fatalistic sense that things are completely out of the characters’ hands, it’s fun to watch them deal with fairy-induced boons and faux pas.
As for the heroine, she’s never whiny or headstrong to the point of prickliness (a literary feat, since she has the title role of abducted heiress for a considerable portion of the book). Armed with a combination of practicality and innocence, she stands her ground against Fin’s Neanderthal ways, turning out to be quite a sympathetic character – much more than Fin, in fact.
Which is interesting, because the hero usually steals the show in the romances I’ve read. Mostly created by women, the romance hero is the embodiment of female fantasy. But Fin is less than average. He’s a very 16th Century guy whose territoriality is neither funny nor endearing. His attitude is probably in keeping with his time, and most of it is brought on by his fear for Molly’s safety. But unlike most good alpha heroes, Fin’s inner caveman doesn’t seem to be motivated by love, admitted or not. He’s in lust, all right. But throughout the book, it’s hard to shake the sense that he’s more interested in Molly’s money than in Molly herself. As a result, their relationship is not compelling enough; you’ll find the riddle of the missing treasure more interesting than their romance.
Another ambivalent character is Molly’s mother, whose sudden concern is hard to believe in light of her passive abandonment of her daughter. And beware the heavy brogue of some of the characters (“‘Tis no use grievin’ afore ye’ve summat tae grieve over….”). But credit is due to Scott for her masterful weaving of plot and research, which gives the story an authentic feel without inundating it with historical detail.
Overall, this is not a powerful love story, thanks largely to a hero who feels strangely absent. I hope the author does better with the sequel, which is the story of Molly’s sister and Sir Patrick MacRae, Fin’s vassal of sorts. The presence of the fairies may be innovative and memorable, but in Abducted Heiress, the real magic is missing.