Historical romances set in Scotland run a certain gamut: there’s the light and funny kind set in a fantasy Scotland, and there’s the more serious, dramatic kind set in a historically-grounded Scotland. The Destiny by Kathleen Givens is the latter kind, which is good – that’s what I like. But while the book’s history is sound, its characters are not.
When we meet Eileen Ronley, she seems an ordinary Englishwoman: the penniless daughter of an impecunious man, she has no dowry and relies upon the charity of an old family retainer, Milford, who keeps trying to marry her off. Gradually, we realize that this first impression is deceptive. Eileen is related, by blood and custom, to some of the most powerful people in England, and she is deliberately kept out of the way lest she be used as a pawn in the deadly game of dynastic politics. Or, worse still, lest she step out of her role as pawn and become a player herself.
Neil MacCurrie is a Highland laird on his way home from France, where he’d met with the exiled and deposed King James II. Trapped by circumstance in England, he is captured by Milford. Neither Eileen nor Milford believes Neil’s claim to be an exiled French Huguenot. Eileen protects him from Milford’s violent intentions and helps him to escape. Neil returns to Scotland, but he cannot forget Eileen.
There’s a lot going on in this book, starting with loads of history. James II was ousted and exiled in 1688 and the throne taken by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange. Neil, like many Scots, supported James, and William and Mary will stop at nothing to quell the rebellious Highlands. Caught in the midst of this is Eileen, related to all the above-mentioned royal personages and dangerously close to the seat of power. Her alliance with a Jacobite Scot like Neil could be disastrous.
I truly enjoyed the historical portrait Givens paints. I studied this period in college – those without that grounding in Stuart politics may be a bit confused at first, but the family tree at the beginning of the book should help. Givens does a good job of evoking, not just the politics of the period, but also its customs and manners. I enjoyed the intricacy of the political chess-game that the characters find themselves in.
Unfortunately, this book stumbles seriously in the romance department. For one thing, Givens resorts to a plot device that is becoming a serious peeve of mine: there’s a prophecy, you see. Eileen and Neil are destined to be together. Since Fate and God and everyone know this, we need spend little time developing their relationship. The author just tells us that they feel a mysterious connection. How much more effective this book would have been if we’d seen two of them interacting, arguing, getting to know each other, becoming a team. The more I see destiny in romance novels, the more I’m beginning to view it as an author’s lazy shortcut.
Furthermore, the actions of the main characters do not always make a whole lot of sense. For instance, from the very beginning of the book, we know – and Eileen knows – that her maternal grandfather is a bad guy. He was her mother’s enemy, he is her cousin’s enemy, he is Neil’s enemy, and he is a friend of Eileen’s enemies. I have no idea why Neil and Eileen unquestioningly and immediately go to this grandfather and place themselves in his hands. I realize that the ties of clan and family in Scotland were strong, but I also know that it’s generally a good idea to stay away from those who might hand you over to the people who are trying to kill you. That nonsensical act leads to a truly frustrating and silly Big Misunderstanding, which then leads to a separation between Neil and Eileen and rushed reconciliation at the very end.
Parts of The Destiny I really enjoyed, and if you’re longing for a meaty, historically-rich story about romantic Scots you could do worse. But don’t get your hopes up too far. Givens’s admirable grasp of history is unfortunately counteracted by the limp romance. The Destiny is chiefly memorable for how close it came to being something better than it is.