I don’t mind admitting that when I saw the cover of this book, my heart sank. It looked just like so many of those other “highlander romances” out there (you know the sort of thing – bare-chested men in kilts!) that made me think I was in for one of those battle-filled, warring-clans, boy-meets-girl-from-wrong-family type stories which really aren’t my cup of tea.
Then I looked at the back cover and read the synopsis… and read chapter one… and kept reading. What actually lies between the covers of this book is a charming, whimsical tale featuring an age-old curse, a haunted castle and a young man coming to terms with his past and finally finding his place in the grand scheme of things.
I suppose one could argue that in future, I must remember the old adage about not judging a book by its cover.
But I would argue that perhaps publishers might want to consider putting something on the cover which is more in keeping with the spirit of the content and tone of the actual story. Had I not been reading this book for review, I would almost certainly not have given it a second glance if I’d seen it on Amazon or in a bookshop.
Lord Alexander Mallory is an ambitious young man whose exceptional military record brought him to the notice of the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool. Since leaving the army, Alex has worked as a government spy, and at the beginning of the story is en route by ship to the Scottish Highlands with his long-time friend and colleague, Sir Bertram Clarindon, in order to seek out the remnants of a group of radicals who could threaten to disrupt a planned visit by the king the following summer.
In order to gain acceptance among the highlanders, Alex has decided he needs a Scottish estate, and, a few days before Christmas, he wins the castle and lands of Bonniebroch from another man on the voyage, Sir Darren MacMartin. As Scottish baronies don’t depend on bloodlines, Alex is able to take the title of Lord Bonniebroch along with the estates.
There are things he doesn’t know, however, things which, when he discovers them, make him suspect that perhaps Sir Darren hadn’t been too disappointed to lose their card game. Firstly, the title comes with a fiancée, and secondly, the castle comes with a curse.
Alex has no wish to be married – indeed, his reputation among the London ballrooms is that he is an eminently desirable catch who has absolutely no wish to be caught – partly because of the sad example of his parents’ unhappy marriage, and partly because he doesn’t feel it fair for a man in his line of work to take a wife.
But whether he likes it or not, Alex is betrothed to Lucinda MacOwen, and despite his best attempts to wriggle out of it, the contract is binding and completely watertight. An added complication is that Alex falls in lust with Lucinda almost immediately and can’t keep his hands off her, or hers off him. In fact, for a man desperate to escape the parson’s mousetrap, he takes every opportunity to kiss and fondle her (and encourage her to do the same to him!) at a time when the merest hint of impropriety between a man and a woman will send them to the altar in less time than it takes to say “I don’t want to marry you but I’d love to get into your knickers!”
Having worried that her betrothed could turn out to be decrepit, toothless, hairless and countless other “lesses”, Lucinda is not only relieved to discover that her intended is young, virile and gorgeous, she’s eager to get married and to get up to all those naughty things that she’s sure married people get up to and enjoy. She’s upset when she discovers that Alex doesn’t want her, but she doesn’t let that cast her into despair. That’s one of the things that makes her such an attractive heroine – she’s pragmatic, not at all missish, and doesn’t let things get her down. That’s not to say she’s annoyingly perky – she isn’t. She’s down-to-earth and, if something isn’t going her way, she tries to do something about it rather than moping and having fits of the vapors.
So she decides to try to change Alex’s mind with a little teasing and flirtation; and in fact, she changes his mind so thoroughly that they are whisked off to church a few days later and married before the Christmas Eve deadline!
Following their arrival at Bonniebroch, Alex finally discovers the existence of the curse, something about which he’d previously been in ignorance. He also discovers something rather unusual about his bride – namely that since the age of six, she’s been ‘haunted’ by the spirit of Brodie MacIver, her very own ‘friendly ghost’, whom only she can see and hear. Fortunately for her, Alex is able to accept this because he, too, has met a friendly spirit, that of Callum Farquar, steward of the castle since 1521. Callum tells Alex and Lucinda how the curse came about and how it has affected the inhabitants of the castle, but the one thing he can’t tell them is how to break the curse, only that it must be broken by Twelfth Night, if tragic consequences are to be avoided.
The book did seem to fall into two parts – the first dealing with the progression of the relationship between Alex and Lucinda, and the second with Alex’s efforts to break the curse. But because the storylines are so engaging and the romance so well-written, I didn’t feel that the book was unbalanced.
Plaid Tidings is a thoroughly enjoyable seasonal read which is laced with humor and warmth. Alex and Lucinda are very attractive and strongly characterized protagonists, the pacing is good, with nary a dull moment, and I found that the addition of the supernatural elements made for a quirky and very engaging story.