May 2009, European Historical Romance (1881 [Victorian] England, Scotland, France)
Leisure, $7.99, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0843960434 Part of a series
When you’re reading a book that is a step or two – or six or seven – above the norm, you know it almost immediately. Such is the case with The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie.
The characters here are so complex and so real that I was fascinated by their journey. Add in the fact that this story is as flat out romantic as any I’ve read in a while, and this is a book that I very much hope will be embraced by romance readers. It certainly deserves to be.
The Lord Ian of the title is a hero almost like no other. He is beautiful and brilliant as many leading men are, but that is where his standard hero qualities end. Ian suffers - truly suffers - from what seems to be some sort of savant syndrome that afflicts him in several ways and resulted in his being something of a social outcast. Though Ian occasionally loses focus and at other times the ability to comprehend conversations - both of which go over just as well as you think they would amongst the ton - his affliction also comes with several gifts, including a nearly photographic memory. Branded “mad” by his cruel and now deceased father, Ian suffered for years under the care of quack doctors and was released from an asylum only when his elder brother inherited the family ducal title.
As the book opens, the "mad" and brilliant Ian meets the fiancé of Lyndon Mather, a man he views with contempt, one evening at the opera. Widowed Beth Ackerly loved her first husband, a vicar who worked in the slums of London. Following his death, she was fortunate enough to secure a position as companion to an elderly lady who leaves Beth a fortune after her death. With her circumstances drastically altered, the now wealthy Beth settles into an engagement with Lyndon in hopes of achieving some kind of normal life. That is until she meets Ian.
Ian decides on the spot – literally – that Lyndon is unworthy of Beth and proposes to her instantly, while also revealing to her the sexual proclivities of her fiancé of which she is unaware. Beth is both intrigued and frightened by him and flees almost immediately to Paris. Ian, who is set on a course of conquering Beth, follows her there.
But a man as brilliant and challenged as Ian, of course, has dark secrets. It seems that an obsessed detective believes him responsible for two brutal murders and he soon enough calls on Beth to reveal his suspicions to her.
Quite honestly, what makes this book so very special is the author’s depiction of Ian. This isn’t one of those books in which the hero’s affliction ultimately turns out to be nothing – Ian has serious issues to deal with and they are never, ever sugar-coated. He is also one of the sexiest heroes I’ve come across in a while. I really can’t wax enthusiastically enough about the author’s careful depiction of Ian as a man who suffers both the tortures of his own mind, as well as the slings and arrows of a cruel world that will never understand him.
Beth is also a worthy heroine. She sees – and appreciates – Ian for what he is and her path from wariness to fascination to suspicion to love is equally meticulously depicted. The author also manages a rare feat these days: The love scenes here don't feel simply tacked on and actually feature real character development that moves the story forward.
The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie is the first in a promised series of four, with subsequent books featuring Ian’s brothers. Each is introduced here and each is intriguing. Since the author set the bar so high for this initial entry, this is a series I am certainly looking forward to following.
-- Sandy Coleman
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