Maeve Greyson opens up her nicely written but poorly plotted new series of time travel romances with Sadie’s Highlander, the first in what promises to be a series of stories about the MacDara clan – a tribe of Scottish brothers who can trace their bloodlines back to the ancient Druids, and who are destined to forever protect a runestone infused with humanity-saving magic.
The Heartstone ensures the continuance of mankind’s existence. Unfortunately, it’s not powerful enough to guarantee the continuation of the MacDara line entirely on its own, as someone from the Clan’s bloodline must always keep an eye on said stone to stop true evil from claiming and misusing it. To ensure that at least one of his five progeny would survive an unfavorable battle and siege on their clan’s castle, Laird MacDara uses a magical incantation to call upon their mother goddesses and transport the Heartstone – and the entire family – away from tenth century Scotland. By order of the goddesses, the family is assigned a guide to modern living – Dwyn MacKay – and settled in 2000s North Carolina with cover jobs which involve their owning and running the amusement park Highland Life and Legends, an historically accurate cross between a Renaissance fair and a theme park. The family waits fifteen years for the women with whom the MacDara boys can multiply fruitfully and continue the Heartstone’s legacy. For Alec, the eldest and CEO of the amusement park, the woman of the hour happens to be LA native Sadie Williams, co-owner of a film production company with her adopted sister Delia, a big-shot actress. Both women seeks permits to use Alec’s park in a movie, and the ensuing email correspondence between Sadie and Alec has become a daily highlight for both of them. When Alec stipulates that in order for them to be able to shoot for six weeks at the park Sadie must stay at the family’s lodge and she’s reluctant to go. Delia manipulates Sadie into saying yes, promising to give the frustrated, budding screenwriter credit on her next movie in exchange for doing “whatever Alec wants”. Though Delia has never shown Sadie much kindness, she controls Sadie’s small share of inheritance from her equally cold multi-millionaire parents, so Sadie agrees to the idea.
As Sadie coordinates the shoot, she and Alec get even closer. But an act committed out of jealousy and a number of unshared secrets threaten to make their fragile union a disaster.
Sadie’s Highlander is an extremely speedy read, which almost benefits it in the long run as you’ve definitely seen this storyline before, from the handsome Scot with a phonetic accent and large quirky family, to the magical runestone macguffin, to the doormat heroine who needs rescuing from an Evil Relative. Sadly, Greyson doesn’t take these stock plot elements and make anything original from them.
The characterization is a big problem. It was hard for me to believe that the bold, vibrant Sadie whom we meet in the second chapter when she’s lusting after Alec’s shirtless bod and enjoying watching her nasty stepsister trip into cow shit would take this much grief from Delia, and be so naïve as to actually trust her, no matter how hungry she was for a familial connection of some sort. Why does she think Delia will go out of her way to help her with her career when Delia has not a single redeeming feature to make Sadie’s hunch plausible? Why doesn’t Sadie just produce her own movie independently with the help of a form of crowd funding? She’s the co-owner of a production company, for heaven’s sake! She could easily use that fact to produce her own screenplays under a pseudonym, even if Delia has big connections.
It was great to have a plus-sized heroine (something that sadly isn’t reflected either in the book’s marketing or cover art), but the author uses that in the usual stereotypical ways – Sadie is anxious about being unattractive, hero likes a woman with meat on her bones and the heroine’s size is used as a positive example when compared with skinniness/plastic surgery of the villainess. Also, all but one of the sex scenes in the book focuses on Alec and Sadie smearing food on each other, which, as a plus-sized reader, felt somehow uncomfortable, an unintentional gesture by the author that underscores Sadie’s existence not as a person but instead objectifies her. Yet I liked her personality a lot, even though parts of her character felt nigh on implausible.
Alec, meanwhile, is just fine as a hero – honorable, kind, sexy, affectionate, good at sex – maybe a tad autocratic and old-fashioned, but still quite dreamy.
Sadly, all of the other minor characters are pretty terrible, from Alec’s bratty and occasionally over-involved teenage sister Esme (who helps dress Sadie to appear at a traditional dress party minus underwear while joking about her brother’s hard-on in a way that feels extremely uncomfortabe) to the nosy, busybody maid. Delia’s villainous intent is made obvious from the get-go, with many paragraphs about how Alec instantly doesn’t trust her and a million thoughts from Sadie about how terribly broken she is. Of course, her evil is signaled by the fact that she’s had plastic surgery and is contrasted constantly with Sadie’s plump, naturally curvy body and her attractive-but-not-stunning looks. But after everything Delia does – and she does some pretty nasty things in this book – one would think the narrative would deliver justice more severely than it does.
There is no internal tension in the romance. Sadie and Alec have fallen in love pre-narrative through their email correspondence – none of which the reader gets to see – so all of the arguments and issues must spark up from one of three not-compelling places; Sadie’s insecurity about her body (which is quickly solved), Alec’s half-truths about his life (which barely faze Sadie) or Delia’s obvious villainy (guess what takes center stage?). The sex is less erotic than raunchy and uncomfortable-sounding (and includes a moment involving pecan pie that would make a gynecologist wince), and the way conflicts are wrapped up involve some seriously uncomfortable manipulation on Alec’s part.
The Heartstone is an odd macguffin. Supposedly dedicated to the betterment of humanity and giving the world passion, it’s also something Alec feels free to consult whenever he’s got a problem. Yet it absolutely doesn’t factor into the story beyond being a Cool Thing That Needs Protecting, and aside from its appearance in the prologue has no real influence on events.
In terms of the writing,Greyson doesn’t distinguish herself very well from the pack. The “tenth century” from which Alec and his family come from is described with extreme vagueness from customs to character dialect, and there are factual errors about the filmmaking process (movie studios definitely don’t keep armies of writers on-staff during movie shoots for rewrites, no matter how popular the star).
The only thing that kept me from failing Sadie’s Highlander into F territory was that it wasn’t morally terrible, and while Alec and Sadie’s romance was underdeveloped, it wasn’t repulsive. Hopefully the rest of the series will be better.