The Witch of Clan Sinclair
Mairi Sinclair, newspaper publisher, meets Lord Provost of Edinburgh Logan Harrison while attempting to crash a lecture at the men-only Edinburgh Press Club. The Press Club is a private institution, and as such denies Mairi entrance. For some reason, she decides that this is Logan’s fault, and publishes a scurrilous poem about him. For some reason, he find this bewitching. I think this book was titled The Witch of Clan Sinclair because although “The Bitch of Clan Sinclair” would have been more accurate, Avon probably didn’t think that would sell.
Logan is a bland wish-fulfillment hero with no personality of his own beyond whatever smooths the plot road. He has an important job, which he only does in between thinking about Mairi and rushing to her side. He needs a suitable wife, except not really, because Mairi is so fascinating. He’s a politician who must keep his reputation intact, except on his second meeting with Mairi, he invites her to stick her hand up his kilt. He has a dream to run for Parliament, but not if it’s incompatible with being with Mairi. In fact, he owns a chain of bookstores, just so he can have an alternative career if he happens to fall in love with a woman who’s a political liability. (She wonders, “What kind of a reporter was she that she hadn’t known that?” Good question, Mairi!) When Mairi becomes a suffragette, Logan isn’t against women voting at all. He’s just never thought about it before, presumably because Mairi wasn’t involved and nothing exists for him beyond Mairi.
Mairi, on the other hand, has plenty of personality. For the first hundred or so pages, I hoped that the author was setting me up for an interesting growth arc, as she learns the consequences of being an arrogant, brassy nonconformist. When Mairi publishes the poem, she seems to know deep down that she’s behaving inappropriately (“wishing she didn’t feel on such shaky ground. Perhaps the provost couldn’t have changed the rules, but he could certainly have been more gracious. Nor did he have to smile at her like that.”) I thought perhaps we’d see an image-conscious politician and a rebel find middle ground. Nope. Instead, the story was about Mairi learning to accept Logan’s mindless devotion. Her career was also underdeveloped. Not only does she not know about Logan’s bookstores, she also allows the suffragettes to railroad her into printing everything for free, and apparently hasn’t paid herself a salary in a decade.
The funny thing is, I’d love to read a bitch heroine, but a realistic one. I want a heroine whose short fuse has cost her opportunities and who struggles to rebuild bridges. I want a woman who is emotionally tough, but not too stupid to see a physician after being knocked unconscious by rocks. I want her temper to be a realistic obstacle to domestic happiness, not an adorable trait because hey, how could she hurt him, she’s just a little lady? In addition to shrugging off her feisty verbal abuse, we also shouldn’t worry when Mairi says things like “She wanted to pummel the man. Or kick him in the shins. Or trip him as he walked.” And we certainly shouldn’t be concerned when she actually hits him. A wee lass like her couldn’t possibly hurt a big ol’ Highlander like him. It’s a medical fact.
There are two nefarious deeds committed in this book. There are also two unpleasant and suspicious characters, one of whom is subtly described, in his first appearance, as “a human rat.” You do the math on that one. A minor subplot involving quarreling women at Mairi’s brother’s estate wastes a large word count and cost me my respect for Mairi’s brother before being absurdly easily resolved. It’s a personal pet peeve when authors of books set in Scotland spell “whisky” incorrectly (“whiskey” is Irish). Mairi also asks Logan irritably if he isn’t offering her whisky because “A woman isn’t supposed to drink whiskey,” which would come as a surprise to avid whisky drinker Queen Victoria.
The book is filled with choppy, one-sentence paragraphs. At one point, Mairi is endangered, and “Panic gushed from her pores,” whatever that means. In the midst of an intense emotional moment outdoors, we are informed that you can hear not just clacking branches, but also “the rustling sound of a small foraging animal.” Nothing says “romance” like a ravenous squirrel.
And then there’s Logan’s hazardous dick. Oh, yes. Lifting Logan’s kilt reveals a whole world of WTF. He needs a support undergarment so he doesn’t injure himself with his giant man-wang. Honest to God, Logan tells Mairi, “If I didn’t wear one, I’d be bruised.” How is this possible? Is it full of ball bearings? Is Logan bow-legged, or does he hitch when he walks, like Keyser Soze? Must his penis, like the Queen’s skirt hem, be secured with weights to prevent it from blowing up in a high wind? When Logan stripped to seduce Mairi, I expected the damn thing to spring up with a Looney Toons “BOINGGGGG” noise and take somebody’s eye out.
I am giving this book a C+ anyway because despite the many shortcomings, I appreciate what it was trying to do. As I said, I had hopes for the prickly heroine/polished hero combination. Despite being historically questionable at times, it wasn’t a wallpaper, and I’d prefer the occasional flaw in details to no attempts at details. Plus, there was something amusing about a story with a career-obsessed ideologue and a supportive, coddling, attractive, bland partner with the stereotypical gender roles reversed.
Well, I may not have gotten as much depth as I wanted from Logan, but at least I got plenty of length!