As a title The Pretender has a double meaning. Jaclyn Reding’s latest is set (for the most part) in 18th century Scotland on the Isle of Skye and involves a hero who is pretending to be something he is not. But the title also refers to the larger issue of the royal Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie. The intertwining of the larger societal plot line into the more personal one is where the book falters.
The personal plot involves a somewhat selfish heroine dealing with the less then truthful men in her life. Lady Elizabeth is the oldest daughter of the Duke of Sudeleigh. Like any good romance heroine in historic Britain, she has no desire to marry and instead wants to continue writing on female equality. Her father is extremely unhappy about her unfeminine activities and sends her into an exile she can’t accept. When Elizabeth is accidentally compromised by Douglas MacKinnon, she decides to go along with her sister’s demand and marry him. Her hope is that her father will be so appalled by her marriage to a Scottish farmer that he’ll agree to an annulment and leave her in peace.
Though Elizabeth’s plan isn’t very well thought out, she does have very real reason to want to get the best of her father, who’s been less then honest with her. That dishonesty continues when the Duke realizes that Douglas is more then just a simple crofter and “encourages” him to keep the secret from Elizabeth. If Douglas does as he asks the Duke will help him to regain his lands and title from the British crown, so he reluctantly agrees.
With less skilled writing, Elizabeth could have been truly unlikable. She’s not. Though she doesn’t always anticipate the consequences of her actions, she is perfectly willing to live with them. When her father tells Elizabeth she must stay married to Douglas for three months and travel with him to Scotland, she shouts a little, but once on the road, does everything she can to make the situation work, which is a personality trait she shares with Douglas. He isn’t any happier than she is about the situation, but he never tries to lay the blame on her. It was certainly a refreshing change to have a hero and heroine who treat each other with respect despite the fact they’re still getting to know one another.
The “getting to know each other” is the best aspect of the book and the relationship. Once they arrive in Scotland Douglas is caught up in a situation that involves Prince Charlie. This is where the external forces in the plot begin to overwhelm the relationship. Douglas spends very little time with Elizabeth and she adapts unbelievably well, both to his effective abandonment and her life as a farm wife. While the author gets caught up in the story of where the Bonny Prince is hiding, Elizabeth, as a character, begins to fade. She barely blinks when she finds out Douglas’ true station in life and she remains remarkably placid about everything that happens.
Some of the problems with character could have been solved if the book had been longer. There just wasn’t enough time to develop the relationship as it could have been. As it is, the couple’s declarations of love didn’t work as well as they could have because of how one-dimensional Elizabeth became. I believe that Jaclyn Reding certainly has a DIK in her, and while The Pretender shows potential, this book isn’t it.