REVIEW: Hard-Hearted Highlander by Julia London
An indomitable governess…a brooding Highlander…a forbidden affair…
An ill-fated elopement cost English-born governess Bernadette Holly her reputation, her unsuitable lover and any chance of a future match. She has nothing left to fear—not even the bitter, dangerously handsome Scot due to marry her young charge. Naive wallflower Avaline is terrified to wed Rabbie Mackenzie, but if he sends her home, she will be ruined. Bernadette’s solution: convince Rabbie to get Avaline to cry off…while ignoring her own traitorous attraction to him.
A forced engagement to an Englishwoman is a hard pill for any Scot to swallow. It’s even worse when the fiancée in question is a delicate, foolish young miss—unlike her spirited, quick-witted governess. Sparring with Bernadette brings passion and light back to Rabbie’s life after the failed Jacobite uprising. His clan’s future depends upon his match to another, but how can any Highlander forsake a love that stirs his heart and soul?
Dear Ms. London,
Despite this being the third book in this series, the idea of post – Culloden Scotland with a sparring hero and heroine sounded too good to pass up. But there are other details in the blurb that hint at the things that didn’t work for me here.
It’s a few years after Culloden and the Mackenzie family and clan are making do as best they can. They didn’t take part in the fighting but got pulled into the maelstrom of destruction that devastated the Highlands all the same. Other neighboring families have been decimated or exterminated while property is ruined and stock confiscated. Rabbie was sent by his father to Norway to escape a false accusation and when he returned it was to find that the woman he loved and was to marry had been killed along with most of her family. For the past two years, he’s been sunk in depression and barely surviving. The book opens with him poised on a cliff edge and wondering if it’s time to jump.
But he can’t as his clan and family need him to make a match with the daughter of a wealthy Englishman who has bought property there. With the Kents as family, the Mackenzies can hope to avoid them as exporting competitors and keep rival Scottish clans from moving into their territory. With their backs still to the financial wall, Rabbie knows he has to do this. No one can make him attentive to this young fiancee though, so … he isn’t. Frankly, he’s an ass. Yes, he buried his heart but that doesn’t mean he gets a pass on acting like a civilized person. I disliked him a lot.
Bernadette’s in a tough place too. She went against her social climbing father and tried to run off with the man she loved. Daddy’s men found them, hauled off her husband, and sent him to his death as an impressed man on a merchant ship. Bernadette’s pregnancy ruined her before she lost the baby and the ability to ever have children. Now she acts as a lady’s maid/companion, kind sorta, to Avaline the silly finacee. Bernadette first comes off as sullen and, Rabbie thinks, insolent. I liked her a little better than Rabbie but she had her moments too.
Avaline’s drunken father is a bully, her mother is a mouse and for some reason they have almost no servants with them. Things are weird. The Mackenzies are appalled at the family and while some do their best to be polite, the tension grows and things are strained. Meanwhile Bernadette and Rabbie go at it and argue like cats and dogs. Initially it’s hate at first sight and it takes a long while before that begins to change. Little by little they discover that they are two wounded souls who have both loved and lost. In her Rabbie finds the first woman who has awakened his dead soul and brought some light into his life. Bernadette finds that he isn’t as bad as she first thought and she can talk to him. At this stage, I still had hopes for the story.
Oh yeah there’s the engagement though. The reasons behind it are still there and it’s coming closer everyday. Bernadette feels Avaline would be miserable with surly Rabbie and tries to get her to cry off. Nothing doing. Rabbie realizes that he’d better do something or he’ll be married to her and they’ll both be wretched so along with Bernadette, he devises some incredibly silly reasons to try and get her to call off the wedding. Still no go. Both are frustrated with Avaline and everyone, and I mean everyone, thinks she is “cake-headed” and stupid. Her father yells at her and she bursts into tears. This all happens a lot. I got really tired of how insulting everyone is to her. No, she’s not assertive nor a genius but she is a person stuck in a bad situation too.
Things sort of spiral around like this for a while. Bernadette and Rabbie obviously have strong emotions around each other but is it love? I’m not convinced. Avaline makes a play to arrange things as she’d like them and the one Mackenzie I’d liked up until then turns out to be another ass like his brother Rabbie. Honestly by the end of the book, you could take the whole lot of them and I wouldn’t have missed any of them. Then Avaline turns into a shrew. Et tu, Avaline?
Bernadette then becomes determined to be a martyr and almost sinks both her and Rabbie’s happiness in floods of tears and self denials. Some other strange things seem to be happening with the property the Kents bought but that is never explained. Rabbie finally figures out a way to force Bernadette’s hand and get her to stop being silly. And she called Avaline cake headed ….
As I thought back on the story, I also wondered if Rabbie was just depressed over his love’s death or if he was actually suffering from depression. Was Bernadette’s influence enough to get him to realize life is for the living or is this an example of romance book true love curing an actual mental illness? There are two more unattached Mackenzie siblings but I will not be back for another trip through Purgatory with this clan. D