There is a lot to like in Miranda Jarrett’s Starlight, particularly the unusual time period, some historical insights, and some very enjoyable moments in the hero and heroine’s initial interactions. But somewhere along the line, the book became something of a slog for me, hard to concentrate on and slow to finish, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.
Captain Alex Fairbourne has arrived in England from the colonies to shepherd his sister Diana to the home of Lady Waldegrave, who has promised to introduce Diana to English society and help her snag a good a husband. On the grounds of Lady Waldegrave’s house, he meets an elfin girl, Cora, who seems to be not quite a servant but not quite a regular member of the household. He is greatly attracted to her and their first few meetings are full of sparring dialogue. She tries hard to be a good girl and stay away from him, but is unable to fight her attraction and intrigue, and he plays on that. I’m a sucker for the alpha male with a heart of gold (he wants what he wants and may press his luck a bit, but feels like a cad later), so I enjoyed this very much.
Cora has a lot to hide. It’s only two years after Culloden, the disastrous end to the Scottish uprising, and feelings in England are still strong against the Jacobites. Cora is Scottish, and her father and the rest of her clan died at Culloden or in the aftermath. She is considered a traitor herself, although her father sent her away to protect her when the uprising began.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the insight Alex gains into what happened in Scotland. As someone from the Colonies, Massachusetts to be exact, Culloden was barely noticed beyond some vague relief that the rightful king of England had not been overthrown. His perspective utterly changes when Cora tells her story, of the brutality and the warfare waged against women and children by the English soldiers. Miranda Jarrett does a great job of bringing this distant history to life, and showing the lingering effects in Scotland later in the book.
So what’s not to like? What caused the book to falter for me, in the end, was a combination of a too-cute animal, a poorly-drawn villain, and Cora’s own cluelessness about the way her life has changed forever.
On the cute animal front, I’ll just say this: if you like adorable kitten antics, you’ll probably like Starlight better than I did. I’m just not a cat person, so I found the continuing emphasis on the kitty’s cuteness quite tedious after a while.
The heroine and the villain are more problematic. Despite all other appearances of being mostly reasonable, Cora has a really annoying blind spot about her father and her situation with regards to Scotland and her family estate. She was told that the kitten was somehow supposed to lead her to her true love, and her father told her he would send someone to her to take her home to Creignish when it was safe. Ergo, Cora spends most of the book insisting that Alex, fast becoming her true love, is therefore ordained to take her home to Scotland. She won’t consider any other alternative, despite Alex’s declaration of love and wish to give her a great life in Massachusetts.
As for the villain, he started out reasonable enough, with believable motivations. But as too often happens, by the climax of the book he had devolved into a scenery-chewing psycho, and his actions went 180 degrees counter to what we had been told about him earlier in the book. His machinations, and the astounding coincidences involved, were the most contrived elements of the plot and really disrupted my enjoyment of the book.
There was much that I liked in Starlight, and if the problems I had with it are not things that usually push your buttons, you may well enjoy this book more than I.