Taming the Highlander
Innes Monroe is in deep trouble when the writing team known as May McGoldick opens Taming the Highlander. Innes, you see, has been blessed – or cursed – with a great gift. Passed down from woman to woman on the death of the mother, Innes’ talent is marked by a white streak in her hair and the ability to touch anyone and instantly have total insight to their pasts, personalities, thoughts, ambitions, goals, and feelings – unless she’s wearing gloves. The gift of sight is enhanced by the single stone she carries at her hip. This is but one fragment of a whole, and it is alleged that whoever possesses all four segments will assume untold powers; but Innes, burdened as she is by her ability to see into the hearts and minds of those around her, chooses not to seek out the other pieces.
Conall Sinclair, the Earl of Caithness, was captured by the British at the Battle of Solway Mars. Now returned home, his brooding presence keeps most strangers at bay. Conall has been emotionally and physically scarred by his imprisonment, and has ceded his position as laird to his brother Bryce, preferring to concentrate on protecting his people from the English. Conall and Innes are united by the marriage of her sister Allein to Bryce. Once AIlein is settled, Innes – knowing that she is an undesirable marriage prospect due to her visions – plans to ask her father for permission to sail around the world before retiring to a convent. But Allein and Bryce’s marriage is complicated by the ghosts of Bryce’s past, which soon has Allein enlisting her sister in plumbing the secets hidden in the castle’s history. But the longer Innes stays, the more she feels at home; and the more she bonds with Conall and his wolf companion.
As Conall and Innes battle their inner demons (and the fact that she can quite literally experience his war flashbacks just by touching him), they slowly begin to fall for each other. But there are much more threatening forces working to rip the couple apart, and it will take an act of sacrifice to keep Innes from falling victim to an evil, greedy man.
Taming the Highlander is something new in the McGoldrick canon: gothic romance. There is something reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier about the plot, with heavy notes of Rebecca laced throughout. The suspense isn’t easy to penetrate, and the mystery often rivals the romance for narrative space, but overall the story is gripping and the romance tense and full of banter, much like the chess matches the hero and heroine use as a bonding tool.
Innes is, in a word, the most ‘goth’ of Scottish maidens. She wears black because she’s literally in mourning for the world and gloves to keep herself from allowing the emotions of others to leak into her mind. Her life is a tough one, and it’s impossible to blame her for wanting to be cloistered away from the world. Tortured Conall is turned on by her rebelliousness and sees in her a kindred sense of duty. His wolf plays matchmaker. As a couple, they are refreshingly less damaged than their backgrounds would suggest.
The supporting characters are fairly generic, though I truly loved Ailein and Bryce. One of my biggest frustrations with the story is that the supporting romance between the two of them isn’t well-developed. Most of the scenes we get feature them with their siblings, and while those scenes are lovely and charming there’s very little reason to understand why they go from verbal sparring to suddenly falling in love.
The book’s other big flaw comes at the very end; it suffers from the need to interlace the novel’s story with the storylines and continuity established in previous books. So in storms the series’ villain the rouge English privateer Sir Ralph Evans, and in storms Kenna, the heroine of the previous book (Much Ado about Highlanders) to heal the heroine’s near-fatal wounds. It feels almost unnecessary, as there’s already plenty of meaty storylines in the mystery surrounding Shona’s death and the barely settled romantic issues between Conall and Innes.
Ultimately, Taming the Highlander works mostly as a gothic re-treading of some very familiar romantic tropes. This isn’t Team McGoldrick’s best book, but it definitely isn’t their worst, and a lovely romance between an appealing hero and heroine makes this one worth reading.