Wild Highland Rose
My first book by Dee Davis was, regretfully, not a successful experiment. Part time travel, part Scots medieval, part mystery – this novel seems like an ambitious attempt by the author to do something a little different from the norm. Unfortunately, throwing away the character clichés would have been a less ambitious and probably more successful way to go since the somewhat interesting time travel plot elements might have held up better if the medieval world wasn’t inhabited by characters straight from Romance Central Casting.
Our heroine Marjory Macpherson is a prototype brave medieval 15th century Scots maiden married to her enemy by a grandfather trying to create peace between the warring clans Macpherson and Cameron. The attempt failed. Now living in her childhood home – Crannag Mhorn – Marjory is filled with anger and resentment toward her husband and his family (with some cause, since they came to her home and killed her parents). Some 15 years later, she clings to her righteous anger, her duty to her clansmen and Crannag Mhor like a leech to bare skin. She and some of her faithful followers plot behind the Camerons’s backs, trying to plan an uprising that will see the Macphersons restored to their rightful place.
Because of this, she’s not terribly upset when she’s told of her hated husband’s death in a freak accident. However, she knows that Ewen’s death is going to bring his vengeful father to visit with all haste, something she would prefer to avoid until she figures out the best way to use this development in her efforts to regain her clan’s proper status.
But something strange happens. It turns out that Ewen isn’t dead after all and, even more puzzling, he doesn’t seem to be the same man he was before his “accident” (Ewen’s brother suspects Marjory tried to kill her husband). Ewen has no memories of Marjory, their life, their hatred of each other, the war between their clans, his brother – nothing. The blow to the head must have made him addled, she decides, as she struggles with whether or not to trust this strange new husband, who looks the same but acts nothing like the Ewen of old.
Ewen is in fact Cameron, a 21st century man who woke up lying on a rock inside Ewen’s body. He doesn’t know who Ewen is or who he is, though the name Cameron seems familiar to him. What he does know is that he doesn’t belong where he is and he’s in trouble. He figures that sticking close to his “wife” is the best way to both gain information and protect himself from whatever trouble is brewing at Crannag Mhor. Eventually his memories begin to return, but they are confused and fragmented, leaving him more unsure about fact and fiction. Who is he and how did he get here? Where is home and how does he get back there?
The time travel elements of Wild Highland Rose were my favorite aspect of this novel. Cameron’s plight was affecting and his character more well-rounded than any of the others. His vulnerability was touching, and his hit-or-miss attempts to separate friend from foe when he couldn’t possibly truly know the difference were believable. I felt sympathy for this man, but sadly my interest in him waned as his relationship with his wife grew. He seemed too good for her. Even in his confusion he was too mature to be saddled with her stubborn, sometimes juvenile fits and starts. It seemed like a mismatch and that feeling grew as the novel progressed.
The relationship between Cameron and his wife is a classic push-pull kind of thing. She trusts him – no she doesn’t. She wants to be with him and be intimate with him – no she doesn’t. She believes he isn’t Ewen – no she doesn’t. I found this dance tiresome, especially since the pretext for it (their nearly instant attraction to each other despite their mutual distrust) didn’t convince me. Their “emotional scenes” struck me as more silly and overwrought than affecting. The chemistry seemed all off between these two: I liked him a lot but I just couldn’t warm up to her at all, no matter how affecting and sad her back story was.
Aside from the mysterious Cameron/Ewen, Wild Highland Rose is packed with character clichés. Emotionally immature yet burdened with much responsibility Scots maiden who tragically loses whole family and vows to fight eternally (and pigheadedly) for the good of her people and the place of her birth. Check. Wise older captain/guard/father figure. Check. Wise older woman with possibly questionable motives and agendas of her own. Check. Check (There are two of them). Fire-breathing Scots laird with blood in his eye and an overblown sense of revenge for events that happened a really long time ago and were perpetrated by people long dead. Check. And so it goes.
The writing itself in Wild Highland Rose is not that bad if you don’t mind inconsistent “dinnas” and “cannas,” but the stock characterizations and somewhat predictable plotting (hero and heroine take a boat out on the lake, a storm hits, the boat sinks, the heroine can’t swim) sucked the life out of what could have been a good character study of an intelligent man lost in time. I think I’d have liked this book better if it was just about Cameron’s time traveling adventure and his attempts to get back home, without any romance in it at all.