Once in a while I just chuck my TBR list and pick up something random at work that catches my eye. In this case it was the audio version of Karen Marie Moning's Beyond the Highland Mist, the first of the Highlander series. I'm a sucker for a good Scottish accent, so I was curious as to how a narrator would handle reading an novel set largely in 16th century Scotland. Phil Gigante (who apparently calls the genre "kilt lifters" instead of "bodice rippers") did a very good job, which means that I have spent the last week slipping into brogue at every opportunity. More than usual, I mean. The plot, however, wasn't really my cup of tea.
The fairy king and his fool are furious that a mere mortal, one Sidheach James Lyon Douglas, Earl of Dalkeith (known as "The Hawk"), has managed give their queen immeasurable carnal pleasure. The Hawk is a legendary lover of women, and the fairies are determined to punish him by marrying him to a completely unwilling partner. Adrienne de Simone escaped a harrowing relationship with a beautiful, treacherous man in New Orleans, only to be transported to 16th century Scotland and forcibly married to the Hawk. He is smitten with her on sight, but she has vowed never to fall for a beautiful man again . . .
As a general rule, I am not fond of romance novels that contain extended falconry-based metaphors in which the woman is compared to a free-spirited bird who needs to be tamed by a master's hand. I nearly gave up listening when Sidheach actually hooded and bound Adrienne, but I put my eyes back in my head and muddled through somehow. I would describe the book as Outlander Lite, in which the setting of Dalkeith is vibrant and interesting, the romance complicated and the characters fairy well-developed. However, the historical depth--the sense of characters being placed in a larger world that might have a significant impact on their personal and political well-being--is largely absent. There are a few well-drawn supporting characters, but very little sense of community.
The Hawk is rather unbelievable as a character--"this man who liberally dripped honor, valor, compassion, and chivalry"--in addition to being the hottest man in Scotland ("corded muscle," hung like a horse, bronzed skin, etc.), hand-carving all the items for his future children in the nursery that he designed, loving his mother, being good to his tenants, and so on. Luckily his perfection is redeemed (for me, at least) by his determination to view Adrienne as a woman to be claimed and branded as his.
It was sometimes a bit awkward to be listening to the sexy bits of a romance novel being read out loud. And by awkward I mean unintentionally hilarious. If I could run a search on the number of times the word "shaft" was used, it would definitely be in double figures, which would be only slightly more than the number of comparisons between that body part and the same part on a stallion. On the plus side, having someone read names like Sidheach and Aoibheal for me meant that I didn't have to figure it out myself and keep getting drawn out of the narrative trying to pronounce things in my head.
It's not clear if the fairy queen ever actually did sleep with the Hawk, or whether she is just using him to get revenge on her lovers. Another shoe that never really dropped was King James, who used the Hawk cruelly during the years of his service (even assigning him to sleep with a court lady), and who would definitely not approve of the Earl of Dalkeith finding real love with Adrienne. Maybe this is addressed in later books in the series?
ETA: An amusing new review of Outlander. Jamie is rather too perfect as well, now that I think about it.
Book Review Index
Dead Mother: No