January 2013, European Historical Romance (Late 19th C. Scotland)
Berkley, $7.99, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425251136 Part of a series
I, like many readers, was entranced by the first book in Ms. Ashley's the Mackenziesseries, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Ms. Ashley's latest entry into the series, The Seduction of Elliot McBride, is nowhere as strong as the first. That said, it's not as weak as The Many Sins of Lord Cameron and is more interesting than the last one, The Duke's Perfect Wife.The Seduction of Elliot McBride is intriguing and, though it fails as a romance, it held my attention for all 300 plus pages.
The heroine of this novel is the Lady Juliana St. John. As the story begins, Juliana is jilted at the altar by her finance - he's absconded with his piano teacher. Juliana didn't really love her finance - she's spent her life pining for Elliot McBride, the brother of Ainsley Mackenzie, her matron of honor, and Cameron Mackenzie's wife. Juliana, unable to confront the two hundred people sitting in the church waiting for her to wed, escapes into a small chapel where she sits down upon a rather drunk Elliott. After getting over her shock at seeing Elliott - he's just recently returned from India where he'd been horribly imprisoned - Juliana proposes that he marry her instead. She doesn't believe he'll take her up on her offer, but he does, and quite suddenly Juliana becomes Mrs. Elliot McBride.
It may have surprised Juliana to find herself married to Elliot, but it's actually part of Elliot's plan for his own salvation. He came to Edinburgh specifically to find Juliana. Elliot suffers from extreme PTSD - his Indian captors were sadists - and he believes his only chance for sanity lies in Juliana's arms and in the Scottish highlands. As soon as she's his wife, he takes her and his Punjabi retinue of servants far up in rural Scotland, thirty miles north of Aberdeen, and settles them all into a massive wreck of a house Elliot bought from his great-uncle. There, Elliot, Juliana, Mahindar (his saintly manservant), Channan (Mahindar's wife), Nandita (Channan's sister), Komal (Mahindar's mother), and Priti (Elliot's three year-old bi-racial daughter) begin completely new lives all of which are centered on Elliot.
Elliot teeters on the verge of sanity. He loses time regularly, is given to fits of violence, and struggles to distinguish between the then and the now. His time imprisoned destroyed his belief in everything other than Juliana. He doubts he will ever be sure of reality or himself again. His perspective, however, is not completely shared by those who love him. Juliana and Mahindar believe Elliot can learn to live safely, even happily, in his rural escape. Unfortunately, even ensconced in the remote Highlands, Elliot's troubled tenure in India haunts more than just his mind. Someone from his past is hunting him and those he loves.
Ms. Ashley has clearly researched 19th century India, its tribes, people, customs, and complex relationship with the British. Though The book is set in Scotland, a great deal of it takes place in - through Elliot's and other's memories - India. The strongest aspect of the book is Ms. Ashley's depiction of Indian culture and the clash between it and colonial Britain. The villains in this novel - and there are too many - exist in part to show how varied those from India are and how horrifically uninterested the British were in seeing that. The good guys are also refreshingly multicultural. Mahindar and his family are portrayed with depth and compassion as are the local Scots who care about Elliot and Juliana. I wondered, in fact, if they were portrayed with more tolerance than was realistic - the local Scots, in general, are exceptionally accepting of the Sikh ways of the Indians.
The plot is, at times, hard to follow. Elliot is possibly crazy, he is possibly being hunted by an old enemy, and/or he and all who live with him are possibly being stalked by thugs Elliot doesn't know. Everyone in the book is constantly on edge, unable to know what to fear. There's tension and terror in this book. It's compelling although I found the resolution somewhat confusing.
The love story is less enthralling. Juliana and Elliot have a long history together and yet it's never made clear why he left her. Elliot is literally obsessed with her, especially with making love to her, and Juliana is oddly at ease with his slightly scary focus on her. The two have sex frequently - as in the other Mackenzie books, the love scenes are detailed and hot. (The title is misleading, however. Elliot does all the seducing in this book.) I was disconcerted by Juliana's willingness to do whatever Elliot asks of her even as she constantly wonders if he's insane. Their relationship with its inevitable happy ending wasn't believable to me.
Fans of the Mackenzies series will be pleased to see the lovers from earlier books. To Ms. Ashley's credit, the insertion of these characters into the story feels natural - I especially enjoyed the interactions between Elliot and Ian. Fans will be also be thrilled to read the sample Ms. Ashley offers of the next book in the series; it's Daniel's story and is enticing.
If you love the Mackenzie series, you will probably enjoy this book. I did even as I found its romance fatally flawed. If you've not read the series, I don't recommend The Seduction of Elliot McBride. However, if you haven't read The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, I assure you, you've missed out.
-- Dabney Grinnan
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