Though I’m suspicious of new-to-me authors, I was willing to give Janice Preston a try because: a) MOC is my favourite trope and b) the word “highland” in the title always evokes a frisson of excitement and anticipation. What I found was an enjoyable, uneven romance. But, first, to the plotty details!
Because His Convenient Highland Wedding is the first of a four-book, four-author series centring around a mystery, Preston’s novel opens with a silly scene of the heroine’s discovery of a creepy tower and mysterious brooch. Flash-forward seven years and heroine Lady Flora McCrieff, having refused the lecherous old goat her father had arranged for her to marry (important to saving the straitened family estate) is in disgrace with fortune and her family’s eyes. To make up for her refusal to save the family fortune and marry within her class, her father compels her to marry second-best, wealthy but from lowly beginnings whiskey-baron Lachlan McNeill. Lachlan is looking to make inroads to the aristocracy for his whiskey and hopes Flora will help him achieve his goal. Little does he know, Flora is in social purgatory …
Preston’s romance sees its finest hour in the first half. She captures the awkwardness and misunderstanding between two well-meaning people who don’t know each other working out physical and emotional intimacy. It is to Preston’s credit that she makes it easy to see how Lachlan and Flora may fall into a cool, courteous, unhappy marriage. But it isn’t what they deserve. Flora and Lachlan are brimming with the need to love and be loved, kind, and giving. However, they were beaten down and have a hard time leaving their reticent shells. Lachlan is too much aware of his inferior status, his humble beginnings à la Jean Valjean, lack of breeding and education. Flora is too aware of her family censure, which has diminished her, and is embarrassed and guilt-stricken that Lachlan was promised an influential wife who can’t deliver social sway. Thankfully, Preston doesn’t make too much of these details, but concentrates on the cringe-worthy hurts and misconceptions the MOC trope delivers.
Lachlan and Flora are also stiff and humorless and I couldn’t embrace them with liking. But I understood their predicament, appreciated it, and wanted them to resolve their marriage woes and be happy. They were deserving, if charmless. Flora’s dog, on the other hand, Bandit, was an utter charmer and he made every scene better by providing much-needed comic relief. What worked regarding Flora and Lachlan was how they entered their marriage as unhappy people and how Preston slowly but surely, with equally forward movement and missteps, brought them closer and gaining in confidence and happiness. Unfortunately, Lachlan’s secondary narrative, his search for a lost family member, derailed the romance’s last third. It was abrupt and the new character was over-the-top screechy. Her response to Lachlan’s re-connection didn’t make sense given the character’s circumstances.
The other problem with the romance’s resolution was what I call the too-much-happiness factor. In the last few chapters, there is so much reconciliation that it made for a clunky conclusion. There were character turn-abouts in response and motivation that give reader-whiplash and eye-rolls. Moreover, the insertion of an ominous return to the initial tower mystery felt conveniently thrust into the narrative, lest we forget and not read the series. Sadly, this didn’t work for this reader and she’ll end her relationship with the series at book one, thank you very much. With Miss Austen, we say Preston’s His Convenient Highland Wedding offers “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Janice Preston’s His Convenient Highland Wedding is published by Harlequin Books. It releases today, April 1st, and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.