September 2012, Medieval Romance (1371 Scotland)
Harlequin Historical, #1106, $6.25, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373297068 Part of a series
The Highlanderís Stolen Touch is an earnest medieval full of well-meaning characters who try to do the right thing for their clan - whatever their personal desires might be. I liked the characters and the feeling of historical accuracy, but the plot did not quite work for me.
Ciara Robertson has loved Tavis MacLerie nearly all her life. He was one of the soldiers who escorted Ciara and her mother to their new home with the MacLeries, and took special care of Ciara along the way. They developed and unusual friendship. His wedding to Saraid was one of the saddest days of Ciaraís life - even though she herself was far too young to marry at the time. After Tavisís marriage their friendship continued, and as Ciara aged and gained experience, they could converse on equal footing. Saraidís tragic death opened the door for a different relationship, but Ciara wisely waited for Tavis to work through his grief. After a few years, she proposed to him, only to be turned down. Tavis believed himself to be a poor husband for anyone, and unworthy of the higher-born Ciara.
Ciara knows that she must marry some time, and if she canít marry the man she loves, she should make an advantageous match for her clan. Her mother and stepfather (who is the clanís peacemaker) support her independent thinking, and will not force her to marry a man she doesnít want to wed, but after she turns down two probable suitors, she senses that time is running out. She agrees to meet with the Jamie Murray, a young heir of an ally clan, to see if they might suit. Though it seems like a bad idea, Tavis comes along for the journey to offer protection.
At first, Ciara has her doubts about Jamie and his family. They are lowlanders with sea connections, and seem a bit high in the instep for people who need her huge dowry. She also overhears an unflattering conversation between Jamie and his dad, who believe she is sleeping with Tavis. She actually isnít, though she probably would if he asked. Ciara kisses Tavis. And Jamie. Jamieís kisses are more of the ďpleasantĒ variety, but Tavis continues to affirm that she is too lofty for him, and hints at guilt feelings about Saraidís death. Meanwhile, Ciara has her own personal crisis. Her parentage is mysterious; though her stepfather Duncan has raised her as his own, she was five when he married her mother. She doesnít know who her own father is, and her mother refuses to talk about it. Ugly rumors have her doubting her own worth.
Since a proposal does not seem to be forthcoming, Ciara agrees to marry Jamie. They all journey back to the clan MacLerie lands. Jamie and his parents loosen up and stop treating Tavis like the hired help. Everyone plays a lot of chess, and Jamie seems to be spending some quality time with Ciaraís best friend Elizabeth, with whom he gets along famously. Is this wedding really going to go forward?
Well, if I hadnít known I was reading a romance, I almost would have thought so, because this plot drags out to an agonizing degree. Both Tavis and Ciara are determined to do the right thing. perhaps a little too determined. Ironically, most of the movers and shakers in Clan MacLerie want Tavis and Ciara to marry, but they donít bother to tell them that. Since this is the Internet, I might as well let my geek flag fly and mention that it reminds me of a story from the Anne of Green Gables series. If you are geek enough to have read all the books, you may remember Anne of Windy Poplars, the book where Anne works as a school principal while Gilbert goes to medical school. Itís basically one long anecdote after the other, and in one of them Anne serves as a go-between for two young people who elope because the brideís father disapproves of the marriage. But when they finally go through with it they find out - haha! - that the father approved all along and was just acting like he didnít because he knew the young man needed a ďchallengeĒ. This is a lot like that, except that Tavis and Ciara donít really need a challenge. I think if the clan had sat them down at the beginning of the book and said, ďHey guys, we actually want you to marry!Ē they could have skipped all sorts of shenanigans. Instead Ciara only escapes a marriage no one really wants her to have by the skin of her teeth. Somehow, that just doesnít seem so funny.
That said, I liked the historical feel of this book. Itís not exactly gritty per se, but itís not flimsy wallpaper either. It has a good sense of place without going overboard on Scottish accents and other accoutrements.
I liked Tavis and Ciara too, though I felt they would have been better served with a different plot. Since they each had some baggage to work through (Ciara had her mysterious birth, Tavis his wifeís death). I think that could have been enough on its own without the whole Jamie/engagement distraction.
The Highlanderís Stolen Touch is the first book Iíve read by Terri Brisbin. Though it didnít quite work for me, I did find a lot to like, and Iíd be willing to try again. I think a different plot would probably be more to my liking.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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