By the end of this review, you might be wondering why I don’t pose the question, “why couldn’t this heiress have remained hidden?” I refrain only because I think there’s really room for only one person to be ridiculously obvious, and I will leave the field to Amanda Scott. To give the author her due, however, her ability to embed her clearly extensive period research into the plot was admirable. Too bad neither the plot nor the characters were.
In the hands of Amanda Scott, sixteenth-century Scottish life is fraught with difficulty, not the least of which is the chance of running into wee folks who muddle your life with their magical interference. Fifteen year-old Elspeth Douglas lives with the Farnsworths, who are raising her for her father, the Earl of Angus, a Scottish ally of Henry VIII’s. Elspeth’s mother was a maidservant, and the young girl has lived with the fact of her illegitimacy her entire life. When the novel opens, the Earl has ceased sending payments for her upkeep, so Lady Farnsworth has made Elspeth into a maid-of-all-work, and to add insult to injury, the two Farnsworth daughters delight in mistreating her. She, on the other hand, is profoundly grateful to Lord Farnsworth, if not the ladies in his family, and will not desert them no matter how badly they treat her.
Sir Patrick McRae is a Scottish lord who is equally fanatically devoted to his lord Finn McKenzie of Kintail, whose story was told in Abducted Heiress, the previous book in this series. Because McKenzie has been imprisoned by the “Scottish pope” Cardinal Beaton, McRae has been forced to spy on the English while also staying on on the lookout for the “hidden heiress,” the sister of his liege’s wife. While at the Earl of Angus’s English holding, he is recognized and chased over the border by English-friendly Scots, who are determined to ferret him out as a Scottish spy. While being pursued, he meets Elspeth, and decides (with her prompting) to masquerade as a falconer so he can evade his enemies. He and Elspeth begin falling in love almost immediately, although she soon figures out he is not what he says he is because his accent fades in and out. It is only much later in the book that he figures out she is not what she thinks she is, either.
When things finally get sorted out, there’s been a literal witch-hunt, reunited sisters, an oversexed king (it’s not Henry VIII), a magical transformation of a maidservant into an elegant lady dressed for a ball (there’s that Cinderella thing again), a marriage declaration that is only valid if the marriage is consummated, a physical fight between best friends, a bucket of water poured on a spouse’s head and a corrupt cardinal. Oh, and there’s a secondary plot involving the randy wee people whose task is, apparently, to protect certain mortals, but they don’t always get it exactly right, what with their own in-fighting and all. All of this happens without there being any doubt whatsoever of the eventual outcome, but, on my part at any rate, not much interest in it, either.
The romance between Patrick and Elspeth is not believable at all; when he’s not hungering for her sexually, he is berating her for being careless. When she is not equally hungry, she is castigating him for being so concerned about her; this, from the girl who will not leave a place where she is being actively mistreated. She wonders why she is so outspoken with him, and frankly, I do, too.
Although we don’t know much about Elspeth (flaxen hair, devoted, hard-working, loves to dance), it’s pretty clear that she would not have had the gumption to speak up for herself to the only person (besides Lord Farnsworth, and he has just stood by while his women have abused her) who’s ever cared for her. Patrick is also an enigma, an enormous, good-looking man who is loyal to Scotland and his lord, but risks everything for the sake of a servant girl he has just met. Neither the hero nor the heroine are the sharpest knives in the drawer. Maybe that is what they have in common. Hidden Heiress is predictable, slow and annoying; its only redeeming grace is its well-done use of historical background.