What Happens in Scotland
What Happens in Scotland is – undeniably – The Hangover in 19th C. Scotland. And much like its inspiration, this book requires some serious suspension of disbelief. If you can get past that, you might just find it innovative and entertaining.
What do I mean by “like The Hangover“? Well, the heroine wakes up naked in an unfamiliar hotel room with a hot man, reeking of brandy. The room is full of feathers and broken glass. Lady Georgette has no memory of the evening before, and no idea why she would acquire a husband, especially since she is a widow only recently out of mourning – and very happy to remain independent. Georgette panics when the naked man assures her he is her husband and suggests she come back to bed so they can “get reacquainted.” Instead, she decks him with a chamber pot and runs off in the 1840s version of a walk of shame, wearing a dress with no corset looking barely respectable.
James MacKenzie is also a little foggy on the details of the previous evening. When he comes to with a giant gash on his head, he’s stuck with a hefty bill at the inn, and no purse to pay it with. He’s also missing his horse. He determines that his erstwhile wife must have taken his purse, and decides he must hunt her down. His brother William bails him out and helps him retrace his steps.
Georgette is quickly found by her cousin Randolph, whose home she was visiting. Randolph lets her know that she has thoroughly disgraced herself, but happily he will still marry her. While Georgette still remembers little of the night before, she does remember turning down Randolph’s unwelcome proposal. She also remembers that he invited her to Scotland – and that she was surprised to discover that she was staying in a hunting lodge with him, without the benefit of a chaperone.
So how is this book different? Well apart from the opening scene where Georgette knocks James out with the chamber pot, the two do not actually interact at all for the entire first half of the book. Both of them spend that time trying to piece together what happened the previous evening, and looking for each other. Georgette needs to know whether she is really married. James has the same question, but also wants his purse back. They try to follow various clues (including a kitten, a prostitute-turned-lady’s-maid, and an unruly stallion) as they try to figure out what happened while their minds were impaired by, well, 19th C. roofies.
How else is this book different? From start to finish, the whole thing takes place in a day. Though I suppose with flashbacks it might stretch to thirty-six hours. Georgette and Jamie take half the book (and day) to find each other, and use the other half to thwart the evil doer (you’ll know who he is faster than they do), solve a few family problems, and fall in love.
For the most part, I enjoyed it. Different is nearly always a plus with me, and I liked that the structure of the story was innovative and that I couldn’t tell exactly where it was going. No obligatory mid-book “it’s time to have sex now so I guess we better do it” scene, no “you proposed to me but didn’t tell me you loved me so I’ll say no scene”. I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss them.
I also liked McQuiston’s writing style, and couldn’t help finding the book funny. She sets the stage with one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve read in awhile:
”Though she would never admit it to polite society, Lady Georgette Thorold hated brandy almost as much as she hated husbands. So it was the cruelest of jokes when she awoke with nary a clue to her surroundings, smelling like one and pressed up against the other.”I also liked both James and Georgette, though I did feel that James’s family issues were perhaps both overblown and easily solved (and right in the nick of time, too). He’s also a little hard on a former friend, though I am sure all will be forgiven when said former friend gets his book (and if the excerpt in the back of the book is indication, it will be soon).
The main drawback was that I did have some trouble believing it all. The town’s reaction to Georgette’s boisterous behaviour, the somewhat over-the-top prostitute/serving girl/lady’s maid, falling in love in a day (half a day?). I wasn’t really sure I could actually believe in it, though I bought in enough to enjoy the story.
What I will definitely be interested to see is where McQuiston will go from here. Will her next book be another formula-buster, or will she play it safe? In any case, I definitely think What Happens in Scotland is worth a look, especially if you are on the lookout for a romance novel that is, well, novel.