Lady of Skye
“The Ferryman was dead.” It’s a great first sentence, including, as it does, tragedy, mystery, and a touch of humor. Just what’s needed to grab a reader’s attention and pull them into a story. And like Julia Quinn and Julie Garwood, Patricia Cabot knows how to infuse the rest of her book with all three.
A first sentence is only as strong as the pages that follow it, and Ms. Cabot doesn’t fail in this either. The only one who thinks the ferryman is dead, is Isle of Skye newcomer Dr. Reilly Stanton, eighth Marquis of Stillworth. He feels as though he’s stepped into the twilight zone (or the 19th century equivalent) when everyone in the pub is convinced that the drunken Stuben is not completely dead, and are intent on sending for Miss Brenna Donnegal. When the mysterious Miss Brenna brings Stuben back, Reilly is dumbfounded, and not a little embarrassed. After all, he’s the one with a medical degree. He’s the one who’s come to the Isle to save the natives and impress his ex-fiancee back in London. His plans do not include a red-haired, trouser-clad, amateur medic stealing his thunder.
Brenna’s reaction to the new doctor is equally intense. The man has been hired behind her back by the Earl of Glendenning. The earl is intent on marriage and wants Reilly to kick Brenna out of her cottage. He hopes (rather foolishly) that Brenna will then be forced to accept his offer of marriage. Brenna is convinced there must be something wrong with the new doctor, else why would he have left London to come to Skye? Reilly is thrust into the ongoing battle between his employer and the woman who has been tending to the people of Skye and is left struggling to figure out what’s what. This is not what he thought his life would be when he left London.
All of this is set-up in the first thirty pages and I was thrilled. The fast pace and quick-fire dialogue reminded me of my favorite show, The West Wing. You’re probably thinking its a bit of a stretch to compare a 19th century historical romance with a television show about the White House, but it’s the pacing that grabs in both. And Lady of Skye does grab the reader.
This author excels at revealing her characters within the space of a few lines. Reilly is a somewhat pompous-yet-sheltered man from London. He’s set on finding some heroic, life-threatening way to prove his worth to Miss Christine King, his former fiancee who dumped him because she wanted him to spend less time playing doctor and more time being the Marquis. That’s not how Reilly views the matter, but Christine’s character comes through loud and clear in every thought that Reilly has. Here’s a sample that defines Brenna, Reilly and Christine:
“Reilly had never in his life seen a woman drink whiskey from the bottle or even from a glass, for that matter. Christine had drunk wine occasionally, but never anything stronger, and certainly never from anything except cut crystal.”
The hardest thing with fast-paced stories is keeping up the tempo without making the reader feel exhausted – or conversely, not being able to keep up the pace and thereby losing the readers interest. Lady of Skye just barely falls under the second category. While every character is well-defined and the romance between Reilly and Brenna is delightful, the book sort of falls off in the latter third. A lot of time is spent on Brenna’s quest (more detail would constitute a spoiler) and it’s just not as interesting as the dynamic that is occurring between Reilly and everyone else. Perhaps this is true only because Ms. Cabot wrote the most engaging beginning I’ve read in a while.
I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by Patricia Cabot, but Lady of Skye put her on my automatic buy list by delighting me with every character and all of the dialogue. It’s a strong outing by an accomplished writer.