The Scotsman Who Saved Me
Hannah Howell combines two of her favorite subjects – life for pioneers in the 1800s and brave Scotsmen – in this pleasant though not outstanding first volume of her Seven Brides for Seven Scotsmen series, The Scotsman Who Saved Me.
Fleeing from an upper crust English world to settle in the American Ozarks, Emily Stanton has endured great hardship. Her sister and brother-in-law were murdered in an assault by ten men hired by their greedy, fortune-seeking cousin Albert, who then burns down her cabin. Taking her young nephew, Neddy, and fleeing for her life, Emily’s been hiding in the forested lands surrounding their cabin when Iain MacEnroy and five of his younger brothers arrive to help put out the burning cabin and salvage what they can of the disaster.
Iain is conflicted right from the moment Emily bursts from the trunk of a hollowed tree to hold a knife to his neck. He and his family of six were driven out of Scotland by the jealous action of a greedy British noblewoman, which led to the destruction of their home and ultimately to the death of their parents. Emily’s upper-class English accent instantly has Iain on guard, and when he discovers that Emily and Neddy might be landed gentry he grows even more wary. A fever brought on by a bullet wound has left Emily vulnerable, so Iain brings her home to rest in the bosom of the family alongside his brothers and the cook, Mrs. O’Neal and her boisterous children.There, the two of them strike up a friendship and mutual attraction, complicated by Iain’s wariness of Emily’s grand wealth, blossoms between them. But with Albert still at large and no one but Iain’s family nearby to help and believe in her, Emily and Iain must brace themselves for the ultimate battle with Emily’s evil relatives. Can these two caretakers learn to share the load, find passion with one another and cope?
The Scotsman Who Saved Me is a frustrating book, comprised of several excellent ideas and good characters that stubbornly refuse to make a cohesive whole. The story begins with a lot of assumptions on Iain’s part, as he of things about Emily, her nephew, her dead sibling and brother-in-law in order to get the plot moving and build the reader’s interest in the fate of Emily and her nephew. This is awkward to read, and unfortunately the narrative continues along this pathway, with Ms. Howell dishing up a lot of repetitive information to stretch things out.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get better. Howell awkwardly establishes Iain and Emily’s attraction –he has to “fight himself not to expose more of her” while she’s lying in the back of a wagon bleeding to death from a bullet wound in the thigh; she makes occasional note of his handsomeness while concerning herself with her nephew and the matter of her evil cousin. But Iain keeps Emily at an arm’s length for so long, alternately feeling great impulsive waves of lust for her followed by awareness of her nobility and the anger and inadequacy that they cause him, that when he shrugs and tells himself he will bed her soon it comes out of nowhere. Emily’s approach is much more adult, and she understandably can’t figure him out until they’re suddenly making out and he’s teaching her the proper scientific name for a penis.They don’t get to really know each other or talk about much beyond making plans to protect Neddy and the others until the last hundred pages of the book, and while those passages are charming, they come far too late in the book to help the audience invest in their love story.
This is a great shame, because Emily and Iain are quite likable as characters. Even though he blows hot and cold, Iain is understandably self-burdened; he’s smart and noble and loving, determined to improve himself and protect everyone around him. Howell does a good job exploring his illiteracy and the way he gradually grasps the written word thanks to Emily’s tutoring (she also tutors the brothers in one of the book’s sole strong Seven Brides for Seven Brothers parallels). Emily is smart, a little bitter and a good guardian for Neddy; she’s a hard worker and is beautifully vulnerable in a few spots. Her observations about the imperfections of her sister’s marriage are truly heartbreaking.
But my favorite relationships in the book are the familial ones. Even though none of Iain’s brothers distinguish themselves from the pack, his relationship with them feels quite real, filled with sharp observations, vulnerabilities and rowdy teasing. The mother/daughter one between Mrs. O’Neal and the orphaned Emily is sometimes more enjoyable than the romance between Emily and Iain. Neddy is, sadly, your average semi-verbal romance novel moppet, and doesn’t add much to the story beyond cuteness points. The evil Albert is properly wicked and arch, but only surfaces to directly confront Emily toward the end of the novel, mostly acting through his hired men – and is dispatched rather too quickly for my taste. There’s also a charming and handsome grandfather, who is a fun character but surfaces and becomes quite important rather suddenly, and some very charming business in the last fifty pages.
How does Howell spend most of the novel’s time? With well-resarched but somewhat dull long domestic stretches, which would pass with more interest if they caused the character development to speed up.
This isn’t my favorite Howell book, and isn’t the best in her canon. The Scotsman Who Saved Me has some wonderful things going for it and some truly annoying ones, but the underdeveloped nature of Emily and Iain’s romance is the true problem here, and is what keeps me from giving the novel a recommendation.