REVIEW: To Wed a Highland Bride by Sarah Gabriel
Dear Ms. Gabriel:
In the 90s there was a small collection of historical romances that mixed in characters having some magic to them. they were sweet romances and the heroines were almost always of that fey, faerie nature. This book evoked some of that same sweet romance with an otherwordly touch. It’s nicely done but it moved a bit too slow in the beginning. When the story focused on the Scottish folklore relating to the fae and the way in controlled Elspeth’s live, it was at its most compelling. When it relied on romance contrivances such as Elspeth refusing to be married but wanting to be compromised, it was at its weakest point.
Elspeth MacArthur is a highland woman whose grandfather is a famed weaver of tartans. She cannot, for mysterious reasons, fall in love or leave the Highlands. James MacCarran is a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He has a viscountcy and not much else. When his wealthy grandmother passes away, he is hopeful the inheritance will serve to help his family, particularly his sisters, secure their futures. In order to obtain this inheritance, his grandmother dictates that each grandchild must engage in a specific task revolving around faeries. Of course, James is a skeptic. His beliefs are grounded in the rock and not the firmament.
The setup is part of the weakest of the story. James must marry a woman of faery descent. Sir Walter Scott is the executor and he is one who will determine whether James’ intended has faery blood. Sir Walter Scott is a weird inclusion in the story. He doesn’t play any significant role and the narration often includes his whole name “Sir Walter Scott” as if the reader might be confused with some other Sir Walter (and there was no other). Additionally James was a “warrior” and had fought with the Black Watch against Napoleon. There was little in the story that dealt with this characterization and I felt it was included only to make James more manly, more alpha. It was unnecessary and instead of adding characterization, it actually detracted because it felt so contrived (as was the character of Scott).
James and Elspeth have an instant attraction to her and while James is not really ready for marriage, he sees that Elspeth could easily pass for one with faery blood. After all, she made the claims of being a faery descendant. Elspeth isn’t so ready to be a bride, particularly to a man who lives primarily in Edinburgh. She feels that she cannot leave the highlands. The reason for this is pretty interesting and I wish it had been brought to the forefront sooner because it would have made her resistance to James more believable.
When Elspeth and James are caught overnight at his home without chaperonage, James insists on marrying Elspeth, but Elspeth would rather be compromised. The “compromise” plot line also seemed to be a contrivance to get the two of them into bed. Elspeth didn’t want to marry the suitor her grandfather had chosen and delights in the idea of having a soiled reputation. Yet, her grandfather loved her much and it was odd to think that he woud betroth her to someone Elspeth wasn’t well suited for or that Elspeth would believe that her grandfather would use her so poorly.
What is really done well in this book is the setting. No faux dialect seemed to be employed. The descriptions of the fae interactions which draw on folklore of the region provide something a bit different than the average historical. The Highlands, the culture, the weaving, all added good atmosphere. Elspeth was sweet and thoughtful. It was easy to see how James, or anyone, could fall in love with her. Unfortunately, much of the plot relied upon standard romance conventions which, for this long time genre reader, are more contrived than convincing. C