Sunday, May 27, 2012
Review: The Taming of a Scottish Princess by Karen Hawkins (4 stars, historical)
Full Description: Amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thoughts After Reading:
I have been a longtime fan of Karen Hawkins, ever since I read her "The St. John Talisman Ring" series a while back (I'm pretty sure I even read the entire series in order - shocking, I know). So when I saw the appealing storyline for her latest book, The Taming of a Scottish Princess, I was hooked. And it was definitely a good read. It had a great sense of witty humor, a strong adventure subplot to help keep me engaged, and I enjoyed the relationship between the protagonists. It wasn't quite everything I look for in a historical romance, but it has quite a bit going for it.
The reader eventually finds out that the heroine grew up as the daughter of a Scottish laird on a remote island. She was a restless and lively girl, and directed her energy towards riding and exploring caves. When she was sixteen, her widowed father died. Her uncle pushes her to marry his son, but the heroine longs for adventure and doesn't wish to be tied down on the island. So, with the help of her friend and cousin, she fakes her death so that she can leave the island and her cousin can gain the title. The book opens fourteen years later (now she's 30 years old), with the heroine having achieved her goal of adventure. She has spent many years traveling, and the last four years have been spent as an assistant to an explorer - who happens to be the hero. She has been an invaluable assistant, game for all of their adventures, always organized when the hero isn't, and who can charm the locals anyplace they go. More than that, though, the hero and heroine have a very close working relationship. The treat each other almost as siblings, joking and casually arguing with each other while still holding a great deal of mutual respect. Much of the humor in the book stems from their dialogue, and it's one of the best aspects of the novel. The hero is a typical explorer, a handsome man who eschews the frivolities of society, can be a bit terse, and who prefers little to the challenge of figuring out puzzles and unearthing treasure. The novel starts out just as the protagonist's relationship had reached the tipping point between being close friends and something more. The hero has counted on the heroine for years without really thinking about her ("just Jane"), but a series of events cause the hero to start realizing the heroine's beauty on top of all her other favorable traits. These revelations are compounded when their long-term search leads them to the very island the heroine grew up, leading the hero to want to figure out a very different sort of puzzle. Specifically, the mystery surrounding the heroine's past.
For all The Taming of a Scottish Princess has going for it, there were definitely some elements of the book that felt unsatisfactory - the largest of which has to do with the romance. I loved viewing the relationship that had already formed between the protagonists, but it comes at a cost. Since the hero and heroine are already so close, most of the romantic conflict is simply them (particularly the hero) realizing what has been there for years and how the relationship should be handled. The hero comes across as especially dense as the story progresses, because he can't figure out what their physical and emotional relationship should lead to - right up until the final chapter, of course. The adventure storyline takes a further toll on the romance subplot. Although I appreciate action and adventure elements as much as the next guy, it really took up a significant chunk of time that is usually directed towards romance development. To be honest, I was particularly bothered by the way a sexual history for the heroine was carelessly inserted into the plot. It seemed unnecessary for a historical, and that the only reason Hawkins added it was to make the couple's transition of jumping into bed simpler - it saved time, in other words. The final resolutions were good, but not completely free of annoyances (for example, the way the amulet was involved at the end detracted from my final enjoyment).
There were definitely some disappointments in store for me as I read Karen Hawkins' The Taming of a Scottish Princess, but they didn't prevent the novel from being an overall solid read. Hawkins kept the storyline fully interesting, between the very close relationship of the protagonists and the fun adventure subplot. Throw in some intelligent humor, and the result is a book that makes me want to take another look at the list of Hawkins' published works.