Highland Scoundrel has a lot to recommend it. It has humor, action, and intrigue. The hero and heroine are both interesting, and the secondary characters are full of personality. There are plots and subplots everywhere. It’s a little hard to keep up with it all, but it’s worth it.
Shona MacGowan is the only daughter of Flanna MacGowan, known as The Flame, and Roderic, known as The Rogue (heroine and hero from Highland Flame). The year is 1519, and she has just returned from the court of King James V of Scotland, who is still a young boy. Her parents host a tournament, hoping one of the contenders will catch Shona’s eye. Though she flirts with then all, Dugald Kinnaird is the only one who really holds her attention.
Dugald is a rather mysterious figure. His ancestry is foreign, and his reasons for being present in the MacGowan home is unclear. Although he is pretending to be in the market for a rich wife, he has actually been sent by one of the king’s ministers to kill Shona; Shona is supposedly behind the assassination attempts on the young King James. Dugald is from European and Japanese ancestry, and is a highly skilled assassin, capable of killing with a single touch. But he is immediately attracted to Shona and decides to find out for himself who is behind the assassination attempts before he kills her. Meanwhile, Shona is enjoying the tournament, flirting with several suitors, but falling hard for Dugald.
There is a lot going on in Highland Scoundrel. In addition to the assassination and tournament intrigues, there is a magical amulet, and Shona has a young ward who has a secret past. Someone is also out to get Shona, and Dugald saves her from danger more than once. Then, half the characters go on the road to Blackthorn Palace, answering a summons from the king. In addition, there are secondary characters everywhere, many of whom have their own books.
Somewhere in there, Shona is briefly engaged to one of them, but she can’t deny her attraction to Dugald and breaks the engagement. Looking back, I’m not sure how all this action got packed in there, but somehow it all made sense.
Shona and Dugald are both good characters. Shona is free-spirited, athletic, and a magnet for trouble. Dugald is more aloof, but his attraction for Shona is believable. Even more enjoyable are the secondary characters, particularly Shona’s parents. Their interaction with Shona and Dugald, and their still-apparent love for each other, really added something to the story. Most heroines seem to be orphans. If their parents are alive they are often out of the country, or else flawed in some way so that there is distance between the heroine and her family. It was refreshing to see an alternative.
However, the secondary characters are both a strength and a weakness. If this is your first time reading Greiman, as it was mine, you may feel like you have arrived late at a party. From what I could tell, Highland Scoundrel is preceded by four other inter-related books, all starring various members of this family. There were several allusions to things that had happened in other books, and sometimes they came across as inside jokes. The good news for me was that I liked this book enough to want to track down the others. Shona’s parents’ story, Highland Flame, sounds particularly interesting. Fortunately there is a family tree with the appropriate titles listed by the couples’ names.
The only other major flaw is a rather serious historical inaccuracy. Dugald is part Japanese and grew up in Japan. He tells Shona at one point that his (Japanese) grandmother was raped by a Spanish soldier. This would have been completely impossible. The first European contact with Japan was in 1543, twenty-four years after the book even starts. Dugald couldn’t have had contact with Japan yet, let alone his father or his grandfather. Oops. This is not the kind of detail everyone knows, but it is the kind of detail every author should check.
If you can overlook the historical inaccuracy and keep up with the intricate plot, this is an enjoyable book. But I would definitely recommend searching for the preceding books and reading them in order, if at all possible.