The Stolen Mackenzie Bride
Jennifer Ashley first made it onto my radar with her book The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, which remains one of my favorite stories to this day. Since then I’ve read more of her work and found it all to be fairly enjoyable, if not quite up to the level of Lord Ian’s book. The Stolen Mackenzie Bride fits in well with these others—while it’s not among my favorites, it was worth reading once.
If you’ve read the other books in the Mackenzie series, you might have heard of Malcolm Mackenzie before—no, he’s not one of an endless stream of potential future heroes, he’s the Mackenzies’ ancestor known as “Old Malcolm.” In the other books he’s painted as a sort of legendary figure—born the youngest of six sons, he wound up as Duke of whatever through sheer force of will, essentially. In this book he appears a bit more relatable, but definitely still larger-than-life.
The story opens with Malcolm attending a ball in Edinburgh in 1745. Amidst all the political intrigue and unrest of this time, he finds his world stopping short when he catches sight of Lady Mary Lennox. Mary is beautiful, composed, and (Malcolm abruptly decides) everything he wants from life. He immediately begins inserting himself into her life, first by helping her sister elope, then by extracting her from a sticky political situation.
It doesn’t take long for Mary to grow attached to the rough Scotsman determined to bind his life to hers. While this adds to the overall feeling of a legendary whirlwind romance, it kept me from perfectly identifying with an otherwise likeable character. Mary is straightforward and pragmatic and already betrothed to an Englishman by the time she meets Malcolm. Although she isn’t in love with Lord Halsey, she’s been planning to marry him for quite some time. More importantly, she’s always expected to marry for political reasons, which is the main cause of her father’s supporting the match with Halsey. It suited the story for her to fall in love with Malcolm quickly, as they had more adventures awaiting them, but I was a bit bothered by how quickly and easily she adapted to facing an entirely different future than the one she expected.
Once Mary and Malcolm have decided they’re in love, they still face a number of obstacles, beginning with their families’ opposing alliances. It’s not just that Mary is English and Malcolm Scottish that’s keeping their fathers from agreeing to the match—Malcolm’s oldest brother Duncan is heavily involved with the Jacobite cause, and as Culloden draws closer, he pulls more and more of his family into his way of thinking. Once you throw kidnapping and possible imprisonment into the mix—well, this is certainly not a dull book.
However, that didn’t mean I loved it. Malcolm, as I said before, is a bit larger than life, a bit too good to be true as a character. His every move is spent looking out for other people, he’s amazingly talented at brewing delicious whisky and earning a profit, and of course he’s the one man in all of Scotland able to singlehandedly defeat an entire camp of English soldiers. Too much perfection can wear on a reader, and it did me.
That said, I’d still recommend picking this book up from your library if you’re interested in something surrounding the Jacobite Rising and Culloden. The secondary characters are mostly painted in a more realistic light, and it wasn’t exactly a hardship to immerse myself in Malcolm and Mary’s world. The Stolen Mackenzie Bride is another solid offering from Ms. Ashley.