Rogue With a Brogue
Sometimes when I request review books, I’ll choose one or two titles from the list we’re sent and then I’ll ask our esteemed editor to throw in another couple of books to make up the numbers. This was one of those “throw-ins”, but I’ve read and enjoyed other books by this author, so I was quite pleased when it arrived. It was only when I read the synopsis that my heart sank, and I thought “oh, no – not another one of those Romeo and Juliet-esque plots about star-crossed lovers from opposing Highland clans!”
Fortunately, however, Ms Enoch shows what a good author can do with a well-worn trope, and the book exceeded my – admittedly low – expectations, turning out to be a well-written and developed character-driven romance featuring two engaging central characters.
At a masked ball in London, Lord Arran MacLawry, younger brother of Ranulf, the Marquess of Glengask, dances with an enticing young woman who clearly knows his identity while he has no idea of hers. He’s completely smitten with her, only to discover that she is Mary Campbell, granddaughter of the Duke of Alkirk, The Campbell himself – and as a result absolutely the last woman with whom he should have danced or about whom he should entertain thoughts of any kind, let alone amorous ones. For the MacLawrys and the Campbells are age-old enemies, a rivalry that dates back beyond living memory.
But clannish animosity cannot control thoughts or emotions, and even though she knows she should put him out of her mind, Mary is equally taken with Arran. The attraction between them is irresistible, and they begin to meet secretly, wanting to make the most of the time they have together before each of them has to marry someone else for the good of their respective clans. But disaster strikes when they are discovered, and Mary’s father informs her that she will marry her cousin Charles, a man she detests. In despair, she manages to get word to Arran, and they run away together.
The story is thus a kind of road-trip with a difference – the difference being that the protagonists are already in love before undertaking their journey. In the short time they’ve known each other, Mary and Arran have already developed a close affinity, and their time on the road allows them to discover more about each other and to fall irrevocably and deeply in love.
Arran has already realised that Mary is the woman for him, even if it means he’ll be a stranger to his own family and will probably be forever looking over his shoulder for a Campbell attack. He senses, however, that even though she is attracted to him and probably more than half in love with him, Mary is not quite as committed to their course as he is, so Arran determines to give her time and space to make up her own mind. It’s important that she choose him for his own sake, not because she feels grateful to him for rescuing her from her cousin or because she’s been compromised. Mary is initially reluctant to burn any bridges or cut the ties to her old life completely, in case she should need or want to return to it; and part of the story is about how she comes to realise that she can’t envisage a future without Arran and prepares to defy her clan in order to follow her heart.
There’s quite a lot in the story about the enmity between the two clans – talk of crofters being run off their land and villages burned out, which are things that were certainly going on in Scotland at the time the novel is set. Even so, I still can’t quite pin down the reasons behind the intense hatred between the two clans, which perhaps is the point, as both Arran and Mary try to obtain definitive reasons for it from their relatives – and nobody can answer them. But it did make those aspects of the story rather nebulous, and I occasionally lost patience with all the clannish posturing.
There’s family conflict, too, as Arran butts heads with Ranulf over the fact that because the latter has become engaged to the English lady he loves, Arran is going to have to marry the lady who has been chosen for him in order to strengthen the MacLawry clan alliances. Arran is, quite understandably, furious at the prospect – and the double standard – although he is prepared to do what must be done for the sake of his clan. But he believes that Ranulf is “selling out” to the English simply to appease his Sassenach bride, and allows his anger to cloud his judgement about his brother’s actions. I can’t say I blame him.
The two protagonists are strongly characterised and I particularly enjoyed the way the author brings Mary to see that her comfortable life had been spent in a gilded cage – and that there is much more to life than fulfilling the expectations of others. The story flows very well – but I’m going to warn potential readers that there’s a lot of phonetically written language – “oot” and “havnae” and “didnae”, etc., which I know some find irritating or hard to follow.
Rogue With a Brogue is, despite its ridiculously cutesy title, an enjoyable book. It’s refreshing to find a romance in which the protagonists don’t try to deny or hide their attraction and in which they keep faith with each other, even when the situation seems desperate. There’s a strong emotional connection between Mary and Arran which grows and deepens throughout the story, and their hard-won HEA is richly deserved.