When a Laird Finds a Lass
In this (very loose) retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, the MacDonald clan is currently going through a leadership change, as their laird recently passed. The new laird, Malcolm MacDonald, has limited interest in being either a highlander or a laird, and wishes to return to his law practice in Edinburgh. When a beautiful woman washes up on shore, wounded, wearing an enemy tartan, and possessing no knowledge of who she is, Malcolm has choices to make. When a Laird Finds a Lass is a witty stand-alone tale of true love overcoming family angst and finding happily ever after.
When the book opens, Malcolm hasn’t seen or heard from his father in years. He was taken to Edinburgh as a young boy and has lived quite a happy life as a lowlander, so when clansmen show up to tell him he’s the new laird of his ancestral lands, Malcolm is none too pleased. However, the clan is in shambles after a plague wiped out most of their leaders and is in desperate need of a strong hand. Resigned to his fate, Malcolm agrees to go with them to Dunbronach.
While this is happening, Marcail MacLeod is having a rough time of it. One of the fierce sisters of the MacLeod clan – who happen to be the sworn enemies of the MacDonalds – Marcail is hopelessly in love with one of her kinsmen. He shatters her heart by choosing to marry someone else. In the midst of her mourning, her father informs her there’s another man willing to marry her and Marcail agrees to the match. However, en route to her wedding, she discovers that he’s not exactly the kind of gentleman to whom she would choose to pledge her troth and begs her father to turn their ship around for home. When he refuses, Marcail decides swimming to shore is a better option and heaves herself overboard.
This choice was short-sighted, as you can imagine, and she ends up quite battered by the waves and rocks, eventually washing up on the shore of the clan MacDonald’s lands. She’s barely conscious, wounded, and in the throes of a serious case of amnesia when Malcolm happens upon her. As she’s still wrapped in the MacLeod tartan, he knows she’s trouble. He also knows she’s beautiful and helpless, so he hides the tartan and carries her back to his home.
Calling her Ronat, the two quickly form a close bond and Ronat becomes part of the clan easily. She helps Malcolm step into his role as a laird, helping him learn both practical and ethereal tasks of Highland life, such as the importance of the belief in “the old ways”, meaning spells and witches and curses. Malcolm had been raised to eschew them and unlearning his mainstream, lowland education and opening himself up to mysticism is a key part of the story. The secondary characters sparkle here, although the heavy brogue is a bit trying to read at times.
Eventually, the secret of Ronat’s origins is revealed and she and Malcolm have problems to solve and decisions to make. It takes a spot of magic and a powerful wish to set things to rights, but all ends well.
The characters are flawed and their development moves along at a well-organized pace. The moments where the story overlaps with Anderson’s tale are fleeting and the process of Marcail/Ronat finding her legs is more metaphorical here than literal, of course. The chemistry between the two is spot-on, however. Malcolm has a deep fear of water, for example, but it’s never cloying and only adds to his humanity.
This is the second of Ms. Cornwell’s Highland fairy tale retellings, the first being Beauty and the Highland Beast, which I also found delightful. Both have been standalones, and it seems we’ll be getting the stories of all the MacLeod sisters. If you like witty dialogue and light books that aren’t fluffy, I’d recommend this series.