Gentlemen Behaving Badly

When a Lady Misbehaves

Wickedly Ever After

 
Secrets to Seducing a Scot
by Michelle Marcos
(St. Martin’s, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-312-38178-3
***
This is the plot:

In 1819, Ambassador Earlington Marsh is sent on a diplomatic mission to Scotland. The Scots are near rebellion over the heavy taxation levied against them by the King to pay for the war against the French, and Earlington hopes to avert war. He takes his daughter Serena with him; they’re staying with the Askeys, a politically sympathetic family, in the Scottish countryside. Serena is used to an active social life in London and finds the wilds of Scotland dull and disagreeable. When her father receives a communication threatening her, he hires Malcolm Slayter to provide protection. As a result, Serena and Malcolm are thrust into nearly constant contact.

These are the main characters:

Serena Marsh: A beautiful, stylish young woman secure in her high position in London society, she writes a popular gossip column for a newspaper. She strongly opposes accompanying her father to Scotland for his diplomatic mission; there’re no entertainments and no sophisticated society. She cannot, however, allow her father, who’s suffering from a heart ailment, to go without her, but she resents having the coarse Malcolm as her bodyguard … until she starts noticing he’s one fine hunk o’ man.

Malcolm Slayter: The hired muscle, he’s the son of a discredited and mostly destroyed clan. His father was unfairly accused of cowardice, and as a result his family members were either killed or abducted. Malcolm himself was branded and has taken his surname to reflect his lack of clan affiliation. He’s been hired to protect her against her strong protests, but he cannot help being attracted to the beautiful Serena.

Earlington Marsh: A career ambassador, he’s a man of principles and integrity. His health issues notwithstanding, he is determined to negotiate peace between Britain and the forces that oppose her. He loves his daughter Serena and is willing to ignore her objections and social conventions in order to keep her safe.

These are the secondary characters:

Gabby Walker: The Askeys’ middle-aged housekeeper, she’s got more wisdom and insight than might be expected for someone of her social status and geographical isolation. Earlington is first shocked then attracted to the straight-talking woman. It’s a relationship that ignores the reality of nineteenth-century British class distinctions, but she provides a welcome counterpoint to the hero and heroine who are more stereotypical characters.

Zoe Askey: The fourteen-year-old daughter of Serena’s and Ambassador Marsh’s host in Scotland, she’s enamored of her French tutor. She’s fresh; she’s vivid; she’s a scene-stealer. Her infatuation with her tutor is a distraction from the main plot, and she disappears abruptly after a short walk-on part (did she get edited out?), but she’s an interesting character who brings a brief liveliness to the story.

Brandubh McCullough: A true villain, he’s devoid of any hint of compassion. His over-weening ambition renders him oblivious to laws, morals, and the wellbeing of his countryman.

This is the problem:

Secrets to Seducing a Scot is an historical romance; herein lies the problem. The insurrection plot is way more interesting than the romance, but it’s a complete fabrication historically.The romantic hero and heroine are far less interesting than the other characters. Yes, there were (and to a certain degree, still are) times when Scotland declared its separation from England. The author, however, didn’t utilize one of those times but invented one of her own. It’s a guess that she wanted to set her heroine in one era (the first quarter of the 19th century) and her hero in another (18th century) because they don’t coexist comfortably in the stated time period.

In the author’s note at the end, she says while she was in school, she was never interested in history, but now she is. Yet she ignores the strict class distinctions of the early nineteenth century. It’s highly implausible that Serena, who’s so socially conscious, would throw away all her previous attitudes just because Malcolm is a sexy stud or that Earlington would readily agree to her marrying a man without means or property to support her.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read a romance where the plot overwhelmed the romance. The best romances use their historical settings to add depth to the story, not raise questions about the characters’ motivation. Moreover, when the too-young and the middle-aged characters are more interesting than the purported hero and heroine and I’m inclined to skim the romance parts to get to the other sections, it’s not a book I can recommend.

The conclusion:

You might want to read Secrets to Seducing a Scot for an interesting political (albeit completely fictional) plot. If, however, you want a plot that is true to history and a romance duo who are fresh and original, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

--Lesley Dunlap


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