When The Romance Reader editor learned that I had a soft spot in my heart for Scottish heroes, she asked if I'd be interested in reviewing a story that wasn't your typical romance. Always one for a challenge, I agreed to review Kathleen Givens' debut novel, Kilgannon. I'm glad I was up for it. This "untypical" romance won't be everyone's cuppa: the story is told from the heroine's point-of-view, for starters. But for others, like me, Kilgannon will be a refreshing break from your run-of-the-mill historical romance.
Mary Lowell, an orphaned Englishwoman, has spent one too many seasons in London and she's tired of the gossip, the parties, more gossip, and the endless list of unspoken rules and regulations that keep her lively spirit repressed. She's also of tired of waiting around for Lord Robert Campbell, the man who has been courting her forever, to ask for her hand in marriage. She's even more frustrated with all the idle speculation in polite society as to when this asking will take place. She's not exactly crazy about this guy, but since no one else is begging for her hand, what are her choices?
Enter one magnificent specimen of manhood, Alexander MacGannon, the tenth Earl of Kilgannon, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Scotsman who has been called to service by Mary's aunt and uncle to light a fire under Robert Campbell's feet. They figure that when Robert, a rival of Alex's in Scotland, sees Mary with this man, he'll start shopping for an engagement ring.
What they don't count on is Mary falling hard for Alex and defying every rule in polite society to be with him come hell or high water. Alex is a widower with two young sons and a loyal Scottish clan. His first obligation is to his people. But when he meets Mary in London, he matches her enthusiasm for him -- though we only see his ardor through Mary's eyes. After a series of starts and stops, Mary finally gets her Highlander. And off this Englishwoman goes with her new Scottish husband to the place he calls Kilgannon.
As I've said, this isn't your typical romance, and because of this, it was difficult for me to get involved in the story -- at first. All the information in this story is filtered through Mary's voice, and because of this, she seems too self-centered during Alex's courtship. However, the novel spans a period of over two years, and once Mary settles down with her new husband and begins to face problems that go much deeper than who-is-sitting-next-to-whom at the latest dinner party, there's a maturity that comes out in her voice, and I began to like her. In many ways, this seemed an epistolary novel; I could imagine Mary sitting at her desk, gazing out over the rugged Scottish coastline and penning these thoughts in her journal or in a letter to her best friend an ocean away.
We only get to know Alex through Mary's eyes; this made it very easy for me to "fall in love" with him. He's brave, handsome, charming, funny … and just so you don't think he's perfect, he's maddeningly bound to his clan and his family, so bound that he doesn't often see the faults of those close to him.
Mary and Alex have some very real conflicts. First, she's English, and he's Scottish, not an ideal match during the era when James Stuart is biding his time in France, awaiting the opportunity to grab at the English throne. Alex, with his kilts and Scottish burr, is not exactly a welcome sight in London, though he does not support Stuart's claim. And Mary, though accepted by the Scottish once married to Alex, always feels her "Englishness." Mary is also refreshingly outspoken, especially about Alex's younger brother, Malcolm, a Scottish Iago whom Alex always seems to forgive. This causes a great deal of tension between the couple.
There were flaws in this book. Givens, at times, plops history lessons and explanations of Scottish attire gracelessly into the story. Many of the secondary characters seemed flat (for example, Alex's cousins, who spend a lot of time on the pages and could be more fleshed out for my tastes). And though I enjoyed the story's dialogue, at times Mary falls prey to words and expressions that sound suspiciously modern or pop-psych, such as "I don't believe Robert would authorize an attack on you!" or "… I've married a stranger with values I don't share."
Despite these flaws, I enjoyed Kilgannon very much. Once I was pulled into the story, I found it difficult to put the book down. The last several chapters of the novel were excruciating to read as Alex (unwillingly) decides to join his fellow Scotsmen to bring James Stuart to the English throne and Mary begs him not to go. The book does not have your typical "happily-ever-after" ending, either, and you're left wondering, "What next?" as Alex leaves for battle, and Mary tearfully watching him go. That's for the second book in a series of three novels, The Rose of Kilgannon, which will be released next month by Dell.
And I sure hope The Romance Reader lets me review it. I miss Alex already!