Devil In A Kilt
Sue-Ellen Welfonder’s first novel, Devil In A Kilt, is one of the best literary surprises I’ve had all year. Despite a few relatively minor problems with language, anachronism, and consistency of thought, the author manages to present a highly entertaining and fun book that stirs the emotions from early on, and doesn’t let go until the very end.
Linnet MacDonnell is the youngest of seven sisters, and the least comely. She’s just become engaged to a man she’s never met, a man who wants her solely for her second sight, and a man to whom her drunken father is happy to sell her, despite the fact that her new betrothed is the sworn enemy of the Clan MacDonnell. But never fear, this is not the tale of a woebegone lass, oft-mistreated by her cruel, older and more beautiful siblings. Her six lovely sisters and eight older brothers (they say her mother died in childbirth, but I’m betting plain old exhaustion played a part in it) are horrified and indignant that their favorite sibling has been sold to Duncan MacKenzie, the fierce and heartless man known as the Black Stag. Even the servants are up in arms about it, and Linnet’s dear old nursemaid Elspeth abandons the only home she’s known to accompany and protect her young charge from whatever horrors await her at Eilean Creag.
Duncan MacKenzie is not exactly a new character in the realm of romance. Hurt by a faithless woman in the past, he refuses to believe in love, and goes so far as to absent himself from the marriage bed, so as to partially honor his vow never to remarry. But remarry he does, in the hope that his wife will be able to use her “sight” to help him find out whether young Robbie is his own son, or the get of his hated but identical half-brother Kenneth. According to his spies, it won’t be hard to resist his new wife, since Linnet is “as unappealing as a sow’s behind.” But when Duncan sees her, he goes up in flames of desire – literally.
In short order, Duncan and Linnet are married, and, despite a wedding night lacking in intimacies, are fooled by their well-meaning but conniving friends into believing that they have consummated their marriage. He’s intoxicated, and she’s inexperienced. This all leads to a bit of unpleasantness – and some nice groveling – when they do finally consummate their marriage. There is an entertaining and unusual scene prior to this, however, in which Duncan, fully aroused by the sight of Linnet naked, thinks of his unfaithful first wife, and starts to lose his erection. Predictably, Linnet believes that this happens because he’s not attracted to her, but more amusingly, she attempts to offer him an herbal remedy for impotence! For all the clichés involved, these are clearly not your average romantic leads.
Aside from Duncan and Linnet, the best character by far is Duncan’s best friend and brother-in-law Marmaduke, a hideously disfigured knight with the soul of a gentleman – and of a smartass. I liked him immediately. Both wise and wise-cracking, he is equally as sympathetic as the hero and heroine, and nearly steals the show more than once. The other secondary characters are interesting, but none are so well fleshed-out as the chivalrous but ogre-visaged Saxon.
There are some problems with this book, though. Plaids are worn to identify clan loyalties, when in fact we know that this did not occur for a good 500 years after the book takes place. Linguistically speaking, words are misused, or a word very close to the right word will be used, but not quite the right word. These could be due to faulty editing. However, the accents also tend toward the over-done side; no one ever says “I am happy” when they could be saying “‘Tis happy I am,” which gets a little old after a few hundred pages or so. Since this is a first novel, and it’s not entirely intrusive, I was willing to overlook it, in the hopes that in the future Ms. Welfonder takes to heart the adage that when it comes to accents, less is more.
Overall, however, I truly enjoyed this book, finding it both moving and fun, and can’t wait to read Ms. Welfonder’s future work. She certainly has a strong start, and a great deal of promise to fulfill. Lucky for all of us.