“Highland” romance with Karen Marie Moning

I’m almost embarrassed to post this one, but what the heck: I just finished To Tame a Highland Warrior by Karen Marie Moning.

I read a review on Amazon that described this book as cheesy. I went all defensive – I wouldn’t say cheesy!  “Slang: inferior or cheap”. “Of poor quality; shoddy”.  Nah.  Silly?  Sure.  Guilty pleasure?  You don’t see me toting KMM to work to read on my lunch break do you?  Guilty pleasure: check.  Fun as all get out?  Yes.  Cheesy?  Noooo.

There are so many reasons I should hate KMM’s books.  These, the “Highlander” novels … Well, the series title probably capitalizes on whatever lingers of the Highlander TV show fan group; the Scotsmen involved aren’t all highlanders (and in fact the bad guy is the only one explicitly called a highlander).  But more, the first one of the series, her first published novel, completely rips off Diana Gabaldon: modern woman gets yanked back in time to be the perfect mate of a magnificent Scottish warrior.  And the language … Foul?  No. I could handle a few soap-in-mouth-worthy pages.  No, what it is is über modern – the heroine of TTaHW, who was born into the time in which the book is set, could in any given scene be pulling on jeans and slipping on her Jimmy Choos and dealing with her Berserker boyfriend after her three o’clock focus group meeting.  And in a couple  of memorable paragraphs the eyes of the Berserker, who calls himself Grimm (awww – ’cause he is.  And it’s his initials.  So cute!) are described as “incandescent”.  Incandescent? Really? They had light bulbs in 16th century Scotland?  I knew the Scots were brilliant.  (Seriously, the word was coined, afai can tell, in the mid 1700’s.  It probably wasn’t very widely used until the light bulb came about.)

“Incandescent” is even worse than “okay”.  An anachronistic “okay” will generally make me at least want to throw a book across the room (and occasionally I do it).  I never do understand why writers – and, apparently, editors – don’t remember that the word didn’t exist in the Renaissance or Restoration or whenever, pre-1830’s. But incandescent is so closely related to technology that I can’t believe a) it made it into the book (candescent would have been, er, okay, though) and b) I *didn’t* want to throw the book.

Another reason I should want to fling the book is the half-hearted (I was going to say half-assed, but I won’t) glancing blow at the brogue.  There is very little attempt at dialect, which when all’s said and done is preferable; there’s a word here and there, and Jillian is pretty consistently “lass” – but the brogue is mostly represented by people saying, instead of “do not” or “don’t” … “doona”.  Now, in other books where the writer is going for a brogue I’ve read “dinna” – “I dinna ken, lass” – but “doona”?  That doona compute.  (I unfortunately don’t know enough Scots to know if it is remotely phonetically correct; I don’t think so, but sadly I’m no expert.  Just an enthusiast.)  But I still didn’t want to throw the book.  The dialogue makes very little attempt at authenticity for the time period or location.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, really … Better to avoid entirely than to do it badly.  Fantasy and historical romancers could learn something here.

Oh, they talk about invading one’s space, too. My semi-educated guess on the earliest appearance of that one as a phrase is the 1960’s. I could be wrong, of course, but it has that smack to it: it was popularized then, at least. Eyes: rolled. Book: still not flung.

The premise is ridiculous: Jillian St. Clair’s father is tired of her scaring off all the men, because after all she is nearing spinsterhood at 21, and so as he and his wife go off on a months’ long visit to a new grandchild he sends off messages to three hunky rogues – “Come for Jillian”, more or less. Grimm Roderick, the Berserker, fostered with the family, apparently (though not really) as a landless, homeless, nameless waif; another foster son, Quinn de Moncreiffe, is also invited, along with a third man famous for his virility, Ramsay Logan. Off go the parents; in come the three studs; and into a tizzy flies Jillian, who wasn’t told about the competition her father incited. Interestingly, her father doesn’t much mind if one or more have bedded her by the time he and his wife; as long as the wench is married at some point soon, that’s fine by him.

Part two of the premise is that the reason Grimm was off appearing to be a landless, homeless, nameless waif was that in the course of one rotten day his father murdered his mother in a berserker rage; and enemies of the family (and/or of berserkers) raided his village and started a slaughter; and they didn’t finish the slaughter because Grimm – actually Gavrael McIllioch (it appears KMM created the McIllioch clan) – summoned a berserker spirit of his own at the ripe age of 13, and forcibly put a stop to said slaughter. With a slaughter of his own. He couldn’t stay at home after what his father did (though he thought his father was dead), and lost himself in the woods, where he was found by young Jillian, who first adopted him and then fell in love with him. He, of course, is afraid of what will happen if he lets her near him – after all, he has not only the taint of madness from his father, but he’s a berserker – so, like so many big strong stupid men in books before him he holds the woman he adores at arm’s length for fear he will hurt – or kill – her. Add to this comedy of errors a nice (and, in the words of the immortal Penelope Garcia, smokin’ hot) man who is also very fond of her and a roguish (and smokin’ hot) man who lusts for her and figures she’d make an admirable wife, and hijinks ensue.

But I don’t hate the book. I actually have a deep, if furtive, fondness for KMM’s books, including this one. I like Jillian, anachronistic as she is.  I like Grimm, thick as he is; the thickness is kind of sweet.  I like the minor characters.  They’re all a step above the moronic cardboard cutouts in the few typical romance novels I’ve dipped into.  Yes, they’re all, every one, smokin’ hot – but they have at least rudimentary personalities, and the writing, while not the Best Ever, is extremely readable. “Doona”s and space invasions and “incandescent”s and all.  At least Jillian has amber eyes, which is doable, instead of lavender or some such nonsense.  And while the other romance novels I’ve looked at (you can’t really call that “reading”) used absolutely mortifyingly horrendous language in describing love scenes, KMM manages to avoid many of their anatomical euphemisms.  Usually.

I’m a little hazy on why she would insist on setting the books in 16th century Scotland when absolutely no notable use of that time is made in the stories, and the only use the place is put to is to underscore that these men must be gorgeous because they’re Scots Highlanders.  They certainly don’t behave like the 16th-century men most romances throw around, praise be; again, they’re far too modern.  As stories, I think they would be better served by being set in a fantasy place and time … but then the publisher wouldn’t be able to throw them on the Outlander bandwagon, of course. Silly me.

So, in the end, will I keep reading KMM? You bet. Will I use her books as reference material in any way, shape or form on any topic at all?  Not a chance.  Will I admit my guilty pleasure outside this blog?  Heh.  Probably not.  Do I recommend them as a fun, unchallenging read, sort of sexy comfort books?  Yeah, actually, I do.

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