What can one say about a book that has some very commendable qualities, yet fails to draw the reader into the story? Even after re-reading the first several chapters, thinking that perhaps I was just having a bad day, I still wondered what to say about Shetland Summer.
Drummond Graham arrives in the Shetland Islands in 1599. He is on a mission that is very important to him personally, but he chooses to keep his motives secret. He adopts the pretense of buying wool to enable him to mix comfortably with the natives. Drummond is large, red-haired and fierce in appearance, and very attractive to the fairer sex. He has no trouble charming the local women because of his looks, and his willingness to listen to them at great length. (Remember this is a work of fiction) He is accompanied by his younger brother, Iain. They share a legacy of illegitimacy and shame, because their father was a shady character who never married their mother. He died when Drummond was a young man, but Drummond was forced to be accomplice to his father while he was alive.
Drummond meets Gemma Sinclair, beautiful young widow who serves as nursemaid to the children of Patrick Stewart, the Earl of Orkney. Gemma leads a miserable existence under the tyrannical earl and only derives comfort from her aunt and uncle, who have raised her, and her tiny Shetland pony, Ting. She is worried about her uncle, who as chief stonemason to the earl is constantly being abused by his boss. Gemma has resigned herself to a life of grim duty, and since she has no children of her own, she lavishes all her love on Ting. She is close, however, to the earl’s wife and children, though that doesn’t help her much. When Gemma displeases the earl, he takes it out on her horse, and in that way he controls Gemma’s actions.
Patrick Stewart has many enemies and he believes that Drummond has been sent by the king to kill his sons. When the earl orders Gemma to spy on Drummond, she agrees in order to avoid causing more trouble for her beloved uncle. Instead of remaining indifferent to Drummond, however, Gemma senses in him a caring, kindred spirit, who shares her love of helping others. She cannot help but confide in him, telling him some of her problems and letting it slip that the earl is using her as a spy. They are immediately attracted to one another. Drummond, however, has a past that haunts him. He was his father’s accomplice in many underhanded deeds, and feels compelled to make amends for his father’s actions.
Drummond and Gemma team up and begin performing random acts of kindness all over the place. They rescue foreign sailors from a shipwreck off the shores of the island against the earl’s wishes, for example. The whole time they are being buffeted by the rain and gale-force winds, they manage to cling to a rock, chat and become highly aroused. It seemed preposterous, and what’s more, they then took everyone home to the castle, fed them all hot soup in the middle of the night, and tucked them all in the loft of the barn before going to their own beds.
As nice as they were, I couldn’t bring myself to care much about these people. These two help everyone else in sight and exude altruism from every pore. I wished one of them would be just a little less perfect, actually. Gemma never really proved herself able to stand on her own against the odds. She seemed to be in need of assistance throughout the book, and was always anxious to please others. Even her pony was braver than she turned out to be. Drummond was a little easier to relate to, but will he ever really throw off his past and tackle the future? At least they were well suited to each other.
There were some things I did admire about Shetland Summer. The use of Scottish dialect in the characters’ speech seemed authentic, and the author obviously has a knowledge of and an appreciation for this area and its history. The attempt to mix real historic figures into the fictional plot was a success, too.
I wish I could recommend this book more strongly but I found the romance was not as gratifying as I had hoped, maybe because of my detachment from a heroine who seemed wishy-washy. For fear of revealing too much of the plot I will say only that the secondary characters were left in a bit of a quandary, and it was difficult to imagine what was in store for them.
I wasn’t able to warm up to Shetland Summer, and so cannot really recommend it.