Feb 12 2009
Dear Ms. Thornton,
It’s been quite a while since I’ve read one of your books, though I was a fan of several back in the day, specifically the Dangerous books (Dangerous to Kiss, Dangerous to Hold, Dangerous to Love) and the Devereux trilogy (Cherished, Velvet is the Night, Tender the Storm). The latter particularly had a kind of old-romance feel that I sometimes like, with lots of sturm und drang and lush historical detail. I was looking forward to giving your work a try again, but unfortunately, I’m not sure that The Runaway McBride was the best place to start.
I kind of knew I was in trouble from the opening pages, in which the denizens of a Scottish village tavern gather on a stormy night and discuss the impending demise of Lady Valeria McEcheran, matriarch of the local aristocracy and reputed witch. There are lots of "dinna fash" and "Sassenach" thrown around right away, and even a mention of a banshee (I thought those were Irish?). In any case, right around then I noticed that the book was not titled, as I’d thought, The Runaway Bride (a fairly generic but certainly inoffensive title). Instead, it was The Runaway McBride, and in that one "mc" I perceived that I was reading a Scottish romance, a romance sub-genre I normally avoid like the plague.
I needn’t have worried, at least not on that count – the action takes place mostly in London and the characters do not, by and large, speak in dialect. However, the story and characterization are disappointingly lifeless and never really engaged me as a reader.
James Burnett inherits his grandmother’s second sight when she dies. A logical, hard-driving businessman who has made a fortune in railroads, James doesn’t particularly want this "gift", but there’s nothing he can do about it. It drives him to seek out his erstwhile love, Miss Faith McBride. Faith had broken his heart years ago (he now thinks of her as "Faithless McBride"), but he has been having premonitions and recurring dreams that indicate to him that she is in danger, and he knows that he is the one who is meant to save her.
Faith McBride never got over James having thrown her over for a better prospect, but she has a satisfying life as a teacher at a fairly progressive (for its time) girls’ school in London. Faith believes in instilling in the girls she teaches the belief that in this modern age (the book is set in 1885), they can be what they want to be. While she lacks the true passion for teaching that her best friend and colleague Lily feels, Faith is reasonably content with her life. At least until a mystery crops up that compels Faith to question her beliefs about her past and her parents.
As Faith is trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, James is tracking Faith. Eventually, he finds her, but he is so overcome at seeing her again that she is able to flee him. James won’t be put off that easily and on their third encounter, someone tries to kill Faith. She begins to realize that she is in the middle of something dangerous, and reluctantly accepts James’ help.
If I were to sum up The Runaway McBride in one word, that word would be bland. The book is competently written, a characteristic I appreciate, given how rarely I encounter it. There are no major plot holes, though the resolution to the mystery is rather weak.
The fault, I think, lies in the characterization. James and Faith were pretty colorless to me. Each had their baggage – in part, the belief that each holds that the other was responsible for their estrangement years before. This plot point was an opportunity for some dramatic tension and angst, but it never really paid off. There is no big "aha!" moment – rather, James and Faith seem to each come to the realization internally that things were not exactly as they appeared all those years ago. What could have been a "bang!" is instead a whimper.
James and Faith are each pleasant people, and together they made a nice couple who deserved their happiness. I just didn’t care enough about it, or them, to particularly want to read about it.
I also had issues with the paranormal aspect of the story. As the relationship between James and Faith progresses, James’ powers increase and begin to include Faith – they share dreams that are actually premonitions of future events, and eventually begin to communicate telepathically. The latter detail, particularly, just felt a little too fantastical for a story that otherwise takes place in a fairly realistic world (well, realistic for a romance).
All in all, I found The Runaway McBride disappointing. Readers who are a little less picky than me may enjoy it more, since as I’ve said the prose is decent and the plot unobjectionable. My grade is a C.