The MacGowan Betrothal
It’s got a charming hero and one unexpectedly humorous interlude. But between the nebulous back story and the two main characters’ stubborn mistrust of each other, The MacGowan Betrothal couldn’t hold my attention for more than thirty pages at a time.
The year is 1535, and lovely Isobel Fraser is the cook at a castle called Evermyst. She is actually the long-lost sister of Anora Fraser Ramsay, the lady of the manor. She’s not just the long-lost sister, she’s the long-lost twin. And she’s not just the long-lost twin, she’s the long-lost identical twin. How anyone could miss Isobel’s noble heritage is truly beyond me; I swear this burning question is affecting my sleep
The sisters were separated at birth because at the time, people considered the existence of twins as a manifestation of evil or witchcraft. To protect their lives, their mother gave Isobel to the care of foster parents, while Anora remained at Evermyst. How Isobel managed to return to the castle in her adult life is not adequately explained. The answer may or may not be found in the preceding book, The Fraser Bride.
The MacGowan Betrothal opens during a feast on Christmas Eve, when Gilmour MacGowan, Anora’s hunk of a brother-in-law, is typically flirting with several women. He catches the disapproving eye of Isobel, who a few pages later decides that the time has come for her to leave the castle permanently. Apart from feeling that she doesn’t belong, she also wants to avoid the advances of “the rogue of rogues,” as the roving Gilmour has come to be known. A prophecy says that another Fraser bride will wed a MacGowan brother, and Isobel is determined to prove that it couldn’t possibly refer to herself and Gilmour.
After Isobel has left Evermyst and secured a position as cook at an inn, a series of attempts on her life leads her to believe that someone wants to take over Evermyst by killing Anora and her husband Ramsay. Isobel thinks the villain is Gilmour, who in turn suspects the same thing of Isobel. But circumstances force them to work together to stop whomever is behind the plot to murder Anora and Ramsay.
If you’re still with me, what you’ve just learned in the last three paragraphs is more than I knew more than halfway through the story. I must’ve been three-quarters into it before I had any inkling of what exactly was going on. It’s so confusing, I found the book easy to put down a great many times.
Its saving grace turns out to be Gilmour, whose good humor and long-suffering niceness contrasts sharply with Isobel’s incomprehensible haughtiness. The twist in his character in the end is also inspired. And while the sexual tension between Iosbel and Gilmour is interesting, you’ll still wonder what exactly the hero sees in the heroine. Isobel is the type of character known well in romance novels, who can be wildly attracted to someone and yet deny it until the bitter end. As late as the last two or three chapters, she’s still pointing an accusing finger at Gilmour, which is silly in light of all the tenderness that he has shown and his obvious bond with his brother Ramsay – the last person Gilmour would plot to kill. Even after surviving life-threatening situations together, Isobel and Gilmour tend to see each other as the enemy. To me this is the most disappointing turn that a relationship can take.
I will say, though, that somewhere in the middle of the book, a series of incidents perked me up. After a run-in with some thugs, Isobel and Gilmour seek succor at Delshutt Manor, which is owned by Isobel’s widowed acquaintance, Lady Madelaine. It turns out that Lady Madelaine keeps the equivalent of a male harem, and her servants participate in her extracurricular activities. Isobel’s and Gilmour’s predicament as they walk unsuspectingly into this hedonistic sex den is almost laugh-out-loud funny, and I was sorry when this part ended and I was back to the less amusing story. Ho-hum.
And so goes the rest of it: the ghostly wise woman who seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the book except as padding to the prologue and epilogue; that atrocious, twice-mentioned pun (“I want Mour” – a play on Gilmour’s nickname); and the unfulfilling conclusion of Isobel and Gilmour’s relationship. Do yourself a favor and give all this a pass.