To Marry a Scottish Laird is a simple compromised-into-marriage story, which is normally one of my favourite tropes in the genre of historical romance. The problem is that while in some cases simplicity of story leaves ample room for character development and relationship progression, neither of those things are apparent in this book. The storytelling is unsophisticated to the point of dullness, there is no chemistry between the two protagonists and the author resorts too often to cliché in both characterisation and plot, so that I came away from this audiobook feeling as though that was ten hours of my life I’d rather like to have back.
Campbell Sinclair is travelling home from a sojourn in the North of England when he happens upon a lad being beaten up by three brigands. Cam is able to rescue the boy and kill or wound his attackers, but not without cost to himself. He is stabbed in the back, and would have died were it not for the care given him by the boy, who – fortunately – turns out to be a healer. Introducing himself as Jonas, the boy explains that he is on his way to deliver a letter to Laird MacKay (?), and as soon as he is well enough, Cam offers to let the boy travel with him, as the MacKay lands lie not far from his own home.
A couple of days later, Cam inadvertently discovers that Jonas is, in fact, Joan, which puts a whole different complexion on things, namely that Cam has trouble trying not to think about what she looks like without her clothes on. The journey, which would normally take a few days, is slowed down because of Cam’s injury, and this allows the pair to get to know each other, exchanging stories and confidences along the road.
One stormy night, after he’s well on the way to recovery, Cam finds it impossible to resist Joan’s charms any longer. She’s still under the impression he thinks she’s a boy, so her first reaction to finding herself being soundly kissed and enthusiastically fondled is one of horror. But when Cam quickly makes it clear he realised the truth about her some time ago, she gives him the green light. At this point, I was tempted to rewind to see if I’d missed anything, because this first sexual encounter comes almost completely out of the blue, with no real build-up. One minute Cam’s trying to shelter Joan from the rain and the next he’s ripping her clothes off! And she goes from “what’s he doing?” to “oh, okay, time to lose my virginity” in about ten seconds flat. It also makes no sense given that both characters have spoken about their desire not to marry or have children – yet they have sex with no thought for consequences until after the horse has well and truly bolted several times over.
Shortly before they reach their destination, Cam asks Joan to go to home to Sinclair with him. Joan isn’t daft and knows this isn’t a marriage proposal – and anyway, she’s a peasant and he’s a lord, so it could never be – so she tells him no, making him think he’s been nothing to her but a pleasant diversion. Cam is hurt and upset by her rejection and, being a man of great brawn but not so much brain, can’t work out that simply asking her to go home with him was not, perhaps, the most flattering of proposals.
On the last day of their journey, the pair are discovered cuddled up beneath Cam’s plaid by none other than Laird MacKay. Joan delivers her letter and plans to move on – only to be informed, as per its contents, that she is, in fact, MacKay’s niece, the daughter of his rather troublesome sister, who ran away with her lover and then died giving birth to her child, who was then brought up by the kindly midwife who attended the birth.
For Cam to have deflowered a young peasant girl is one thing. For him to have deflowered the niece of The MacKay is quite another, and he immediately offers to make things right by marrying Joan.
And thus the misunderstandings continue to pile up. Joan thinks Cam is only marrying her because he has to. He thinks she doesn’t want him because of her earlier refusal to return home with him. She thinks she’s not good enough for him because she wasn’t brought up a lady and can’t do all the things that the wife of a would-be-Laird should be able to do. He has no idea that she thinks that way, because, while they spent a lot of their journey talking about anything and everything, once married, he avoids her because he feels he’s forced her into a marriage she didn’t want… and so on. Add in the bitchy trollop who’d hoped to marry Cam, a plot to do away with Joan, a red herring that’s so obviously a red herring as to have a neon sign painted on it, and we’re shopping in Banalities-R-Us like it’s the last day of their closing down sale.
To Marry a Scottish Laird moves slowly and possesses very little by way of charm or wit. Cam might be good with his weapon – both in the sack and out of it – but he comes across as being somewhat dim and unperceptive. Joan is so full of insecurities that even when Cam tells her outright that he loves her and that it doesn’t matter to him if she can embroider or sing, she continues to doubt him, and I lost patience with her very quickly.
Kieron Elliott is a new-to-me narrator. His voice is pleasant to listen to and he acquits himself fairly well here. He’s a Scot, and performs the narrative and most of the characters in his lovely natural accent, but his interpretation of Joan is a bit iffy. While he uses an appropriately softened tone and a slightly higher pitch to portray her, his accent is all wrong. Joan is supposedly from Grimsby in the North-East of England, but she sounds as though she’d fit right in among the cast of EastEnders. All the other characters are clearly delineated, and the narrative is well-paced, although he does have a tendency to split sentences by inserting long pauses after conjunctions.
I would certainly listen to Mr Elliott again (although on the showing here, he needs to work on his English accent a bit), but it’s a shame that he wasn’t given better material to make what appears to be his début recording in the genre.
Book Content: D
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio
To Marry a Scottish Laird was provided to AudioGals for review by Harper Audio.