MINI-REVIEW: Isabel Cooper’s LEGEND OF THE HIGHLAND DRAGON, Or Brogue Meets East End

Legend Of the Highland DragonMiss Bates has read only a handful of paranormal romances.  For example, she read J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal, #2 in the Blackdagger Brotherhood, and enjoyed it, but never returned to the series, or any others from one of the romance genre’s most popular incarnations.  Isobel Cooper’s Legend Of the Highland Dragon, though well-written and worthy of praise on certain levels, reminded her why she didn’t, and doesn’t, read paranormal romance, or does so rarely.  It’s not that paranormal romance is less worthy of her attention; it is, for Miss Bates, a matter of sensibility: and there’s something about these transforming/shifting heroes/heroines that she finds … well, silly and unconvincing. 

On the  other hand, she acknowledges that paranormal romance, more than any other romance sub-genre, confronts and explores the encounter with the “other”: its hyperbolic, and/or fantastical nature brings into the foreground the foreignness of another person/creature and the sheer miracle of recognition, of the romantic assertion that “I know you.  I see you. You are my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,” to quote the psalm.  Cooper’s novel does this no less and no less well than any well-written, tongue-in-cheek, witty paranormal romance … yet, it fell a little flat for Miss Bates and she often had trouble buying into the narrative.

Cooper’s novel centres on the encounter between the hero-dragon, Laird Stephen MacAlasdair, and the East-End-born-made-her-way-out secretary -heroine, Miss Mina Seymour.  With Mina’s employer, Prof. Richard Carter, as a mutual acquaintance, the two are thrown together when Stephen warns Carter that a shared archaeological expedition to Bavaria has left them in danger for their lives, from one said vengeful character, Ward.  Part of MissB’s problem with paranormal romance is her addle-brained inability to keep track of names, creatures, and secret societies.  And there’s plenty to keep track of in Legend of the Highland Dragon.  Circumstances conspire to trap Mina in Stephen’s London home.  This compulsory co-habitation feeds their mutual attraction and sparks a friendship which, in turn, fuels love’s fire.  Mina and Stephen also have to fight the bad guys, who seem to manifest in the form of nasty, gelatinous blobs, like servings of malevolent blancmange.

MissB found Cooper’s narrative slow-moving.  Mina and Stephen’s co-habitation also made it claustrophobic.  Mina and Stephen spend a lot of time figuring things out and indulging in some gentle dragon-to-lass banter, but nothing ever seems to happen.  And, because our hero and heroine start and end as fully-formed decent creatures, their characterization remains static and thus, not all that terribly interesting.  A narrative doesn’t have to have action and one plot “event” following another for Miss Bates’ pleasure.  But if there’s a dearth of action, then there better be character development.

Nevertheless, the narrative did have a lot going for it that MissB usually enjoys.  It is well-written and funny in places.  It is set in the Victorian Era, which is one of Miss Bates’s favourites.  Miss Bates loved that our heroine hails from the East End and makes a pithy suffragette-supporting-working-class mouthpiece.  She even mentioned the Pankhursts!  (When Miss Bates went to London many years ago, she visited and wept over the Pankhurst graves, she was so moved.)  All this boded well for this romance.

Unfortunately, the bode did not bide.  The narrative teased MissB with Jane Eyre-ish possibilities, setting Stephen up as a mysterious lord with secrets in the attic!  This was dropped like a hot potato after the first chapter.  Moue of disappointment from Miss Bates.  Primarily though, the problem with Legend of the Highland Dragon is a weak romance.  Emotions are so restrained, so diffident; attraction is resisted and many deus ex machina(s?) abort the times these two approach even a little passion-filled smooching.

If paranormal is your genre and you are looking for excellent, smooth, adept, and tongue-in-cheek writing, then you’re going to enjoy this paranormal romance.  For Miss Bates, this was … um … a little boring and the woo-hoo was … um … a tad silly.  And the narrative was somewhat unsexy.  Please note all the mitigating hesitations on Miss Bates’ part.  Cooper’s Legend of the Highland Dragon, says Miss Bates, offers no more than “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.

Miss Bates is grateful to Sourcebooks for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.

Are you a reader of paranormal romance?  And, if you are, what would you say to, and what would you recommend for, Miss Bates to have a better reading experience of the sub-genre?

2 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Isabel Cooper’s LEGEND OF THE HIGHLAND DRAGON, Or Brogue Meets East End

  1. Miss Bates
    There are so many sub-sets to what you term paranormal that it is hard to know where to begin–
    But ALL require a willingness to abandon strict adherence to reality (as we understand it to be). The best have deep, consistent word-building and characters you like. The ones I’m mentioning all have a romance (or two) that develops as the series goes along.

    Urban Fantasy–modern day setting with the addition of otherworldly creatures. Great shifter series include Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Both heroines can be characterized as “kick-ass” and not TSTL. CE Murphy’s Urban Shaman series features Native American magic. Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series invokes the Celtic Fae, while her humorous Incryptids series riffs on ‘Men in Black’. Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series is fun too–lots of snarky dialog and the best dragon shifter ever.

    Strict paranormal usually involves psychics or wiccans or ESP, or ghosts, etc. Jayne Ann Krentz/ Amanda Quick’s Arcane Society books are fun. Nora Roberts has a great series with a wiccan theme–the Three Sisters Island trilogy. She does ghosts, too–Midnight Bayou, or the In the Garden trilogy. Romantic-suspense makes great use of the psychic plotline. Kay Hooper has built a multi-book series featuring law-enforcement people with ‘talents’ (the earliest books are the best–“Out of the Shadows” is on my keeper shelf.)

    Much older ‘gothics’ also feature ghosts–Barbara Michaels’ “Ammie, Come Home” is fantastic.

    That’s just off the top of my head. All of the books I mentioned are set in the ‘real’ world. The Amanda Quick books are set in Victorian England; the rest in modern day US.

    And I am certain that your faithful readers will have other suggestions.


    1. These are wonderful suggestions and Miss Bates is so grateful for them. Miss Bates obviously doesn’t navigate the “paranormal” waters terribly well, but is always happy to learn. It is unfortunate that her present exposure was a little flat. The Mercy Thompson series has been on the missbatesian radar because she so loves Native American milieu, character, etc. because of her love, mutual she believes, of Tony Hillerman. She also has loved every book she’s ever read by NoraR., and most of those have just been her early categories. Sea Swept is a favourite and that had some lovely ghostly woo-hoo! Thank you for stopping by MBRR with your romance erudition! 🙂


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