Narrated by Derek Perkins
I confess straight out that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of books with the word “Scot” or “Highlander” in the title as the majority of those I’ve read have seemed to have identical plots and characters. So reviewing Wild Wicked Scot, the first in Julia London’s new Highland Grooms series wasn’t an automatic choice for me – until I saw Derek Perkins listed as the narrator. I’ve listened to him several times before and he always delivers a solid, entertaining performance, so with him at the helm, I settled in to enjoy at least the narration – and discovered that, taken as a whole, the listen exceeded my expectations.
Lady Margot Armstrong, the daughter of the Earl of Norwood , is nearly eighteen, beautiful, flighty – and rather spoiled. She enjoys the attentions of the well-mannered, courtly young gentlemen around her and fully expects she will eventually marry one of them and continue living in the style to which she is accustomed. Until one night when, completely out of the blue, her father introduces her to Laird Arran Mackenzie and announces that they are to be married.
Margot is horrified. Not only is this large, unkempt Scotsman a complete stranger, he’s not at all the sort of man she’s imagined marrying. He’s undeniably attractive, but he’s completely dishevelled, and his manners leave something to be desired. Yet Margot has no choice in the matter; her father insists the marriage is Margot’s duty to England and that the alliance will protect the Armstrong fortune for years to come – and the wedding takes place soon afterwards.
The story proper opens three years later, when Margot unexpectedly returns to the Mackenzie stronghold of Balhaire. We learn that, after four months of marriage, she had fled back to England and her father, where she has remained ever since. Arran supported her financially, but they have not exchanged a word since she left, and naturally he – and his entire clan – are suspicious of her motives for coming back. It’s obvious that the hastily arranged marriage between the cossetted lady and the rough highlander was doomed from the start, and in a few flashbacks, we see the final nails in the coffin, as it were, the author clearly showing that Margot, immature and completely unprepared for marriage, had no idea how to be a wife and Arran, while older and more experienced, had no idea how to be a husband.
Arran’s suspicions that there is a reason for Margot’s return other than her expressed desire for a reconciliation between them are correct; she has been sent back to him by her father who has heard rumours that Arran is involved in a treasonous plot to aid the Jacobites and restore James Stuart to the throne – and wants Margot to find out if the allegations are true.
She doesn’t really know how to go about finding the evidence – of his guilt or his innocence. Even though she doesn’t believe Arran could possibly be guilty of treason, she tries her best to make him believe in her desire to make a fresh start with him, thinking that if she can keep him happy in the bedroom, he’ll be more amenable, less suspicious and more likely to let something slip in an unguarded moment.
Arran, however, is far from stupid. Even though he can’t resist his wife’s obvious charms and the resumption of their sexual relationship is fairly explosive, he is not about to let her make a fool of him again and makes his mistrust of her extremely clear. But Margot is determined, and as she goes about Balhaire trying to fit in and making a lot of effort in order to do so – unlike when she was first married – she gradually discovers that she is doing it because she actually wants to be there at Arran’s side, and not because she’s been instructed to do so.
This aspect of the story is nicely done. At first I thought Margot was going to be the sort of heroine I dislike intensely; an immature foot-stamper who looks down on everyone around her and who somehow runs rings around the hero, who is too puppy-eyed to notice. But fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Margot does start out as that sort of character; when she comes back to Scotland, there’s no doubt that her new willingness to adapt is a pretence, but that’s only at first. She soon starts to realise how poorly she’d behaved, how badly she had hurt Arran by her unwillingness to make an effort and how much he had wanted to please her without really knowing how.
I enjoyed the book more than I’d expected to, because the characters are well-developed, and the author does a good job showing their emotional growth as the story progresses. There’s also a strong secondary plotline relating to the fragile Anglo/Scots politics of the time which adds an extra layer of intrigue and, towards the end, really ups the stakes for both Arran and Margot.
I said at the beginning of this review that I chose to review Wild Wicked Scot based on the fact that I have enjoyed listening to Derek Perkins in the past and was confident he’d deliver an accomplished and enjoyable performance. He does exactly that, performing both narrative and dialogue at a good pace, differentiating effectively between all the characters regardless of gender and hitting all the right emotional notes. His range of vocal characterisations is impressive; there are quite a few different male characters in the story, from Margot’s father and brothers to the various clansmen who surround Arran, and each one of them is easily identifiable. Arran himself comes to life in the mind’s ear as a commanding, sexy hero, and Mr. Perkins’ female voices are very good, too, a softened tone and slight raise in pitch leaving the listener in no doubt as to gender. As an added bonus, his Scottish accent is excellent – I know I’m not going to be wincing at excruciating mispronunciations or other inconsistencies, which is a real concern with some narrators. Because his accent is so good, it lessens the impact of the continual addition of the word “aye?” to the end of what seems to be one sentence in every four. I can imagine this would have been incredibly annoying in print (in fact a friend of mine who read rather than listened said it drove her nuts!), but the audio gets away with it because the narrator makes it sound natural. My one criticism – which isn’t really a criticism, more of an observation – is that I can’t quite work out why he has opted to give Margot a slight northern accent, but that’s a minor issue and didn’t affect my enjoyment at all.
Wild Wicked Scot is a well-developed character driven romance, and I’m happy to recommend it. It’s not going to reverse my general aversion towards Scottish-set romances, but with Derek Perkins on board for the next book, Sinful Scottish Laird, there’s a good chance I’ll be picking that up as well.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Audio
Wild Wicked Scot was provided to AudioGals by Harlequin Audio for a review.