Narrated by Derek Perkins
Even though I was very disappointed in the previous book in this series of historical paranormals (The Highland Dragon’s Lady), I remembered reading the print version of Night of the Highland Dragon a couple of years back, and thought I’d give it another go-round in audio. The final member of the MacAlasdair family of shape-shifters is Lady Judith, who resides at the castle of Loch Arach and takes good care of all those who depend on her and the castle for their livelihoods. Into this Highland idyll comes William Arundell, an investigator for a secret branch of the government who starts asking uncomfortable questions about Judith and her family in the course of his investigations into a gruesome murder. The two are suspicious but drawn to each other, although sadly, the romance is fairly lacklustre and the story as a whole is somewhat dull and lacking in direction. There’s also a severe lack of background information about William’s work and of scene-setting in general. The story is set in a late Victorian era in which magic and witchcraft exist, and listeners are just asked to accept that without any further explanation of how, why, where and who – which this listener found somewhat frustrating.
William works for D Branch, a secret department which is neither police nor military and which is tasked with keeping Britain safe from the supernatural, satanic cults, ghouls, ghosties and, as William himself puts it, “basic strangeness”. While he’s not a wizard and doesn’t have any sort of supernatural power, he does use magic and various gadgets supplied by their very own version of “Q” in his investigations; protective charms, silver bullets and some sort of gizmo that enables him to see dead people. Or their spirits, at least.
He has been sent to a remote area in the Scottish Highlands in order to look into what appears to be the ritual killing of a local boy, and in the course of his enquiries, hears rumours about the lady of Loch Arach which pique his interest. Nothing, however, prepares him for the reality of the lady herself when he meets her – Judith MacAlasdair is like a warrior queen; beautiful, poised, independent and strong – and quite possibly his prime suspect.
Judith takes the welfare of her dependents at the castle and in the village very seriously, and the sudden arrival of a stranger – albeit a very attractive one – who starts very subtly asking questions fills her with anger and suspicion. Like her brothers, she is a shape-shifter who can take the form of a dragon, although she spends most of the book in her human form.
William and Judith circle warily around each other even as neither can deny the frisson of attraction that sparks between them. Judith doesn’t want an outsider poking his nose into her business, and William is suspicious of her wariness and resentment, but when it becomes obvious that something truly evil is at work in Loch Arach, they agree to join forces to defeat the malevolence that is threatening the village, and possibly the country at large.
As with the previous book, anyone expecting Judith to spend any length of time in her dragon form is going to be disappointed. But the biggest problem overall is that none of the three elements to the story – romance, mystery, paranormal – are fully exploited, which leaves a rather unfocused and disjointed whole. As I said at the outset, this version of Victorian England is never explained or developed, and we’re never told how William is able to use magic without having some sort of magical ability. His previous assignment, to investigate a mysterious, dangerous cult called the Consuasori is referenced a few times, but feels like little more than name-dropping in order to set up the eventual dénouement. And while I liked William as a character – he’s intelligent, competent and methodical, and isn’t threatened by Judith’s powers or superior strength – Judith is harder to warm to and the romance between them springs almost from nowhere. There is little – if any – build up to their first kiss and their relationship seems built more on lust than any emotional understanding or connection.
Derek Perkins once again does his very best to enliven a dull story, but there is little he can do to make Night of the Highland Dragon much more entertaining than its predecessor or anything other than it is – a predictable mystery with unmemorable characters and writing that I am charitably going to call “workman-like”. His performance is every bit as good as I have come to expect – well paced, expertly differentiated and beautifully delivered – and I freely admit that there were times I just let myself sink into the sound of his lush baritone and the rhythm of his speech without really taking a lot of notice of what was happening (and then had to rewind!) He’s become something of a go-to narrator for Scottish-set romances by virtue of the fact that he can produce a convincing and consistent Scottish accent (I never have to wince at mispronunciations or an over-done brogue), which he employs intelligently, quite rightly toning it down for the upper-class, more educated characters, and roughening it up for servants and villagers.
Listening to Mr. Perkins is always a pleasure. I just wish he’d had better material to work with.
Book Content: C
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Fighting
Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Night of the Highland Dragon was provided to AudioGals by Tantor Audio for a review.