I’m not a great fan of paranormal romances in the main (although I adored Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London books), but I read one of the other titles in Isabel Cooper’s Highland Dragon series a while back and enjoyed it enough to be interested in reading or listening to another one. Until recently, only the first book, Legend of the Highland Dragon has been available in audio format, but Tantor Audio has now issued books two and three, The Highland Dragon’s Lady and Night of the Highland Dragon (which is the one I’ve read). With Derek Perkins once again lending his considerable narrating skills to the project, I settled in for what I hoped would be an exciting story filled with magic and mysterious goings on.
Two out of three isn’t bad, I suppose. Because while there’s certainly magic and mysterious goings on, the story isn’t very exciting. In fact, it was so dull in places that even Mr. Perkins couldn’t save it or stop my mind wandering, and I found myself backtracking several times throughout the listen.
The story opens with Miss Regina Talbot-Jones entering what she believes to be her brother’s bedroom in the dead of night, only to find that he’s given his room to one of the Talbot-Jones’ houseguests, Colin MacAlasdair, an old friend of his. Reggie is so intent on berating Edmund sotto-voce that she fails to notice the presence of the handsome Scot, but she soon realises her mistake – especially when she touches his hand and realises that Colin is no ordinary man. For not only does Reggie have the ability to look into the minds of anyone with whom she makes skin-to-skin contact, but Colin is a man/dragon, a shape-shifter who lives mostly in human form, and when they touch, Reggie immediately discerns the truth. This happens in the first chapter, and I admit I was surprised she accepted that fact so quickly and easily, her own gift notwithstanding. But accept it she does, and then we learn that Reggie and Colin are not the only ‘oddities’ currently in residence at the Talbot-Jones’ home. Reggie’s parents purchased the house just a few years earlier, but have come to realise that it is haunted, possibly by the ghost(s) of the former inhabitants. To that end, they have invited a medium to stay, and Edmund, knowing that Colin has made a study of magic (but who has no idea that he’s a dragon!) invited his friend to stay as well, thinking that perhaps he might have some light to shed upon the situation.
When the séance results in the medium being badly injured, it’s clear that something needs to be done to rid the house of the malevolent spirit, so in order to do that, Reggie, Colin and the other guests start to look back into the history of the previous owners to see if they can discover the identity of the ghost. And, they reason, if they can find out who it is/was, they might be able to find out exactly what it wants and use that information to get rid of it.
That’s a sound basis for a story, but the execution falls flat. The first meeting between Reggie and Colin works well and there’s a nice spark between them, but other than that, the chemistry between them is sorely lacking. And then, in the very next chapter, I felt as though I’d suddenly been plunged into the middle of the book when Colin and Edmund are inexplicably attacked by a swarm of murderous wasps! Honestly, I thought I’d somehow skipped ahead a few chapters because it came completely out of nowhere. Oh, and if anyone is expecting this to be a story in which the hero spends any significant amount of time in his dragon form, they’re going to be disappointed, because he doesn’t. I wasn’t bothered by that personally, because given the scenario, if Colin had spent half his page time as a dragon, he would have had a difficult time interacting with the other characters and falling for Reggie. In fact, given the set up – an evil spirit, disembodied pale faces at the window, things going bump in the attics – I’d describe this book as being more of a gothic novel than a paranormal one.
I like gothic novels, but this didn’t hit the mark there, either. There’s no real sense of menace or impending doom; with Colin being practically immortal it seemed there was never any question that the good guys would rout the evil spirit, even though, close to the end, the author finally brings something to the mix that ups the ante a bit. But it was too little, too late, because by then, I’d lost interest; there wasn’t enough suspense or strong enough chemistry between Reggie and Colin to have got me invested in their relationship, such as it was.
And speaking of the principals, while Reggie is quite an entertaining character – adventurous, plucky and somewhat unconventional – Colin is very bland. He’s clever and handsome and all the things required or a romantic hero, but those qualities never gelled to make him even faintly interesting. Most of the supporting characters are sketchy, too, other than Edmund, who, while it’s never stated explicitly, is gay and trying to avoid being forced into marriage by his parents.
If I’m lucky, an average (or below average) book can be elevated in audio by the quality of the narrator’s work, and there’s no question here that Derek Perkins delivers exactly the sort of accomplished, nuanced performance I have come to expect from him. His pacing, use of expression and character differentiation are all excellent and I really can’t complain about any aspect of his performance, either technically or creatively. But as I said at the beginning of this review, even he wasn’t able to make the proverbial silk purse out of this one, even though it’s no doubt thanks to him that I was able to make it to the end. I take my hat off to Mr Perkins for his sterling work, but I’m afraid I can’t recommend The Highland Dragon’s Lady, which promised much and delivered little.
Book Content: C-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio
The Highland Dragon’s Lady was provided to AudioGals by Tantor Audio for a review.