|Surrender is set on the New York frontier in1758, four years into the French and Indian War, not a frequent setting for a romance. Iain MacKinnon has lived in the colonies since he was barely more than a boy, after the brutal end to the Jacobite rebellion and the destruction of his clan at Culloden. He has grown to be a man with uncommon bravery and fighting skill and his display of these skills caught the eye of the new commander of Fort Elizabeth. Lord Wentworth knows he will need this type of wily woodsman if the British are to prevail in this conflict, but he suspects that Iain is unlikely to be a willing recruit to King George’s army, so he launches a diabolical scheme to force him to serve. He and his brothers become Rangers, not exactly regular troops, but still answering up the chain-of-command.
While on a mission, his scouting party stumbles across a woman being pursued by a couple of Abenaki warriors and some French troops. Her bravery draws Iain, as she faces off against a tomahawk-wielding warrior, growling, “You dinnae have me yet.” Iain dispatches the raiding party and literally carries the unconscious woman off, fastened to his back by a sling balanced by a strap across his forehead.
What he doesn’t know is that it was not his passenger’s family that was killed in the raid, but rather the couple that held her bond of indenture. Once she is conscious she introduces herself as Annie Burns, but she is in fact Lady Anne Burness Campbell. A series of unfortunate events has caused Lady Anne to be branded a thief and transported in indenture: her father and brothers died in battle, her mother fell into decline, they went to live with her father’s brother, who made her mother uncommonly nervous. Shortly after telling Anne never to trust Uncle Bain, her mother is dead, clearly by the uncle’s hand. Lady Anne attempted escape, but Uncle Bain caught her and labeled her a servant, a liar and thief. He then offered her the choice of returning to him, but Lady Anne, being no fool, chose indenture and deportation; she was literally branded as a thief. Uncle Bain himself performed the chore, and didn’t use the traditional thumb placement; he marked the “T” high on her inner thigh.
Iain takes Annie back to Fort Elizabeth. There she is introduced to Lord Wentworth, whom she unfortunately recognizes. Will he remember her from their previous meeting, although she was practically a child at the time? If so, will he contact Uncle Bain? Will her indenture status be uncovered, literally, by the discovery of the brand (a good excuse to keep your thighs together), will Iain be able to keep her out of Wentworth’s grasp, will he discover that she is related to the dread Argyle Campbell enemy from Culloden, will he be able to resist dishonoring her (he knows he’s in no position to marry)?
Fascinating questions that built a really engrossing plot. Although it could have evoked a “Perils of Pauline” air, with Anne threatened constantly from all sides, it actually seemed a pretty realistic summary of her situation. These threats heightened the suspense, but were not used make her into a victim in constant need of saving. Another plot plus: the dreaded “horrible secret” aspect was not drawn out until you begged for these people to go on Jerry Springer and tell all. In due course, when it was reasonable to do so, both characters shared what needed to be said, and ultimately neither over-reacted to the news. In fact, both characters were uncommonly mature, generally displaying a levelheaded reasonableness that was quite attractive.
Finally, the historical accuracy was meticulous, flawlessly woven into the tale, never appearing as though it were flung up like scenery in the background. Creating a Battle of Ticonderoga scene sufficiently convincing and captivating that one is not tempted to skim through on the way to the good stuff is quite a feat.
Surrender does have a strong “Last of the Mohicans” vibe, but in a good way – the hot Daniel Day Lewis LOTM, not the grim, brutal and stuffy James Fenimore Cooper version. As in the movie version, the male lead was a touch more fully drawn and shade better developed, character-wise. Iain’s every motivation, belief and action were consistent. Anne, having more of a “fish-out-of-water” stance, was a bit less consistent, but consider this the most minor of quibbles. Aside from its unfortunate title and deeply unattractive cover model – a cross between Harry Hamlin and Val Kilmer that is surprising less attractive than one would think – this is a book to savor. The “R” rating reflects slight kinkiness, but is more a result of the graphic violence. Hard to do the French and Indian War without it, I guess.