An American in Scotland
I enjoyed the previous two books in Karen Ranney’s MacIain series, so was looking forward to An American in Scotland, which features Duncan MacIain, the steady and dependable owner of the MacIain family’s textile business, and who has appeared as a secondary character in the earlier novels. In the first book, In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams Duncan’s mill was struggling because of the difficulty of obtaining sufficient quantities of cotton from America owing to the Civil War, and the book’s hero, Lennox Cameron, was the owner of a successful ship-building business whose latest venture was building ships to run the blockade around US waters. He wasn’t the only one engaged in such activities, and as a result, Glasgow became a –perhaps unlikely – centre of intrigue, as spies for the Union flooded the city trying to root out Confederate sympathisers and cut off their enemies’ supply lines.
This all provided a fascinating background to the central romance in that book, especially for someone like me who knows little about the history of the American Civil War and even less about Glasgow’s involvement in it. It was clear in that story – just as it is in this one – that Duncan and people like him were not particularly sympathetic to the Confederate cause, but that they needed to do what they must in order to maintain their own livelihoods and those of the people who depended on them.
That aspect of the historical background features strongly in this latest addition to the series, as Rose O’Sullivan risks life and limb to run the blockade in order to travel to Scotland to sell the last of the cotton produced by her brother-in-law’s plantation to his Scottish cousin. Born in New York, Rose went to live at the Glengarden plantation outside Charleston with her sister Claire when she married its owner, Bruce MacIain.
When Rose arrives at the home of the Scottish branch of the family, she is exhausted and half-starved, nervous at not knowing what to expect and terrified because this is her last hope of providing for her family back at home. When the MacIains make the assumption that she is the widow of their American cousin Bruce, who has gone off to fight for the South, she doesn’t correct them, believing it best Duncan believes she has the right to sell the cotton by right of her supposed marriage. She knows that repaying the MacIains for their kindness with deception is a horrible thing to do, but if she can’t persuade Duncan to not only purchase the cotton, but to then run the blockade in order to retrieve it, her family will likely starve.
The first third or so of the book takes place in Scotland while Rose waiting anxiously for Duncan’s decision, with the rest of it covering the events of their journey to retrieve the cotton and their experiences at Glengarden. The journey is a dangerous one, made moreso when, in Nassau, Duncan is told that their ship is under surveillance and that orders have been given for its capture. And then there is the fact that Bruce, who has returned from the war minus a leg, hates Rose implacably for many reasons, not least of which are her sympathy for and kindness to the plantation slaves and her refusal to defer to him and bend to his wishes as every “good” Southern woman should do to the men around her.
Rose is an admirable character who has endured much for her beliefs and who refused to break, even when she was beaten, whipped and forced to work in the fields alongside the slaves. I liked her strength and courage, but the problem is that we are told, over and over and over about what Rose endured at Glengarden, about what a total bastard Bruce is, about her sympathy for the slaves, about the decadence and superficiality of the Southern lifestyle, about how Rose isn’t demure and submissive… honestly, if I was told once, I was told ten times and while it was interesting the first couple of times, the continual repetition really slows the pacing and disrupts the flow of the story.
Duncan is a decent hero, but isn’t fully fleshed out as a character. He’s kind, decent, responsible, and, perhaps, regarded as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud by his family. By the end of the book, he’s thinking about how much more adventurous he’s become since meeting Rose, but overall, he’s pretty bland.
My other major issue with the book is that for a romance, it doesn’t have much romance in it! I reached 35% on my Kindle, and Rose and Duncan had interacted only a few times. By that time, she’s been in Glasgow for a few weeks, and we’re told that she is attracted to Duncan and he to her, but I wasn’t shown that, and I certainly didn’t feel it. In fact, there is very little chemistry between them, and the romance, such as it is, is low key and not at all well developed. Both characters are straightforward, decent people, so there is no inner conflict to propel their relationship forward, or to provide those little lumps and bumps along the way which we like to watch them work out. It’s true that they are in a potentially life-threatening situation, but they have no control over that, and other than to make them go through that whole “let’s shag, for tomorrow we could die!” thing, it doesn’t have much bearing on their relationship.
Ultimately, I’m afraid that An American in Scotland proved to be a real slog and was tough to finish. I had to force myself to actually read rather than skim large sections of it because of the amount of repetition, and was disappointed at the lack of any real emotional connection between the hero and heroine, which ultimately led to my feeling rather disconnected from the novel as a whole. If I’d been grading the book solely as a romance, I doubt it would have scraped a C-, but because the writing is so strong, and the historical background so well-researched and interesting, I’m upping it to a C.