The Heart Queen
After finishing staying up late into the night to finish The Heart Queen, I found myself wondering why Patricia Potter isn’t talked about more. While none of her books have been Desert Isle Keepers for me, I have enjoyed every single one I’ve tried, which is why she makes my buried treasure list.
The Heart Queen begins in 1747, with Scotland still reeling from the aftermath of Culloden. Neil Forbes has just become the Marquis of Braemoor; he inherited the title from his cousin Rory, who was apparently killed by the Black Knave. Neil has always been the one who managed the tenants and the books at Braemoor, and now that he’s marquess he intends to make changes and improvements.
Neil is quickly sidetracked, however, when he hears that Janet Leslie, his long-ago love, has just become a widow. Years ago he and Janet fell in love and were on the verge of marrying when Neil’s uncle informed him that madness ran in his family. Neil didn’t want to subject Janet to that kind of risk, so he broke off their relationship, and allowed her to think he wanted a larger dowry. Janet has never quite recovered from that betrayal. She eventually married, but her husband was cruel and abusive. When Neil arrives for her husband’s funeral, she hardly knows what to say to him. But Neil is aware that her plotting relatives may try to harm her or her infant son (who is now an earl). He tells Janet that is she ever needs help he will be happy to provide it. Janet brushes him off. After all, she comes from a family of Jacobites, and Neil fought with Cumberland. But when her brother-in-law begins ordering her around and won’t show her the books for the property, she feels she has no choice but to call upon Neil for help.
Janet thinks maybe Neil will petition Cumberland to make her the guardian of her son, but Neil knows that he would never give guardianship to a woman, especially one with Jacobite leanings. Instead he has Cumberland name him guardian. When Janet finds out she feels betrayed and furious. She doesn’t feel she can trust Neil or take him at his word when he tells her that he intends to keep the lands for her son. She’s not even sure he’s any better than her scheming brother in law. Although she begins to trust him a little when he lets her take the lead with the tenants, she is still very suspicious.
The plot becomes more complicated when Neil leaves to see to his own lands and is attacked by a mysterious stranger. His life is spared because he carries the jack of spades (the black knave) in his pocket. Neil is near death, but the mysterious bandit tends his wounds and sends him back to Janet to die or recover. Now Neil has another debt to pay, and another group of people to worry about – as if he didn’t already have Janet and her children and all of the tenants on his estates. Meanwhile he knows he is falling even more in love with Janet and her children, and he needs to figure out how to protect her and gain her trust.
Obviously this a romance with a happy ending, so we know Janet will come to trust Neil and find out the real reason he left her long ago. What is nice is that it is not immediately apparent how the characters will get to that point. Is it just me, or have many of the romances out there been suffering from “obvious plot syndrome”? Happily, this one doesn’t. This ties in to the setting, which I also found refreshing. While post-Culloden Scotland is not exactly new ground, it has been some time since I read anything of this nature, and I didn’t realize how much I had been missing it. Patricia Potter expertly captures the danger that lurked everywhere, and for once the heroine has real problems that really matter. I can appreciate an airy soufflé as much as the next person, but every once in awhile I need a book I can really sink my teeth into – one with a heroine who has concerns besides becoming the toast of the ton or getting some rake to notice her. Janet is overcoming an abusive relationship, but that’s actually secondary to the other dangers and plots against her.
It did take me a little time to warm up to Janet, who seems warier of Neil than she should be. Of course she’s been burned in a big way – originally by Neil and then much worse by her abusive husband. But she seems a little blind to the dangers around her. Her in-laws make no bones about their dislike for her, and it should have been obvious that they would go to great lengths to wrest power from her. For far too long, Janet lets her hurt feelings blind her to the realities.
I had no such problem with Neil, whom I simply loved immediately. He is as unique a hero as I have seen in romance. He is competent and capable but at the same time very self-depreciating – and almost shy. I’ve never seen another quite like him. He spends the book trying to figure out how to do the right thing, and he worries about his responsibilities to everyone, even when they treat him poorly. He doesn’t particularly expect anyone’s regard, even though he works tirelessly to earn it. He compares himself very unfavorably to his brave cousin, even though he is just as brave himself. And he does it all without whining, ever.
Our review of The Black Knave mentions the intermittent quality of the Scottish accents, and I’m afraid that comes across in this book as well. But don’t let that hold you back. Potter is a very talented author, and Neil alone is worth the price of admission. I will be moving The Black Knave up in my tbr pile, and I hope the hinted-of sequel about that mysterious stranger (The Diamond King?) becomes a reality. If you are craving excitement, danger, and a hero to die for, you won’t want to miss this one.