Highland Scoundrel

 
The Ranger
by Monica McCarty
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0345-51826-2
****
One of the Highland Guard series, The Ranger is an excellent historical romance set in the early 1300ís. The author has obviously done her homework and the sense of history around Robert the Bruce is realistic. Little is done about some of the more day to day activities but the warfare and the logic of the times are well covered.

Arthur ďRangerĒ Campbell is a spy for Robert the Bruce in his efforts to gain the Scottish throne. The large band of rebels fighting King Edward includes a group of men known as the Highland Guard. These men surround the Bruce and each has a unique method of warfare or set of skills that he brings to the table. Arthur has always had a sixth sense that allows him to be aware of things before others. He can recognize the signs of danger and react faster than most men. Due to this rather amazing trait, he is the scout; the man they send out to spy.

At this time, Ranger is infiltrated in his family, or at least the half of his family who side with the English King. He is headed to the home of his sworn enemy, John, the chieftain of Lorn. As a young boy, on his first trip with his father and brothers, he saw his father killed by John when Lorn cut down his father in the back after a fair fight. Arthur was the only witness to this atrocity. He has sworn vengeance and has been patient over the years Ė the time now has come.

But Arthur meets Lornís lovely daughter, Anna. Anna is brave, brash and has an amazing amount of courage. Anna is educated, something unusual for the times. But Lorn uses her as a pawn and at times as a messenger to deliver information. Arthur has been searching for the way that messages have been traveling throughout the several chiefs who are holding out against the rebels and he hasnít been successful. He is also strongly attracted to Anna. Lorn instructs Anna to get to know Arthur and make sure he is loyal. Anyone with the name of Campbell is suspect until proven otherwise.

Much of the book involves Arthur trying to gather information and Anna distracting him. They become friends, even though they are so strongly attracted that they resent each other for causing the feelings. Neither completely trusts the other and Arthur knows specifically that they can have no future. Anna loves her family and would do anything for them, while Arthurís main goal in life is to kill Annaís father. There is bantering, laughing, lovemaking (although this is much more in the guise of foreplay than actual lovemaking) and at the same time, there is suspicion and questions and uncertainty.

This story moved quickly and at almost 400 pages that is saying a lot. I was never bored and was often energized by the mix of talking, thinking, passion and threat. The ending exceeded my expectations. Anna is a strong heroine and what few things one could fault her for were handled with aplomb. Arthur too, is a hero worthy of the Highlander name.

The only negative about this story was the intensity of the history lesson. To make sense, one had to understand the players and how they fit. Without understanding the various allegiances and reasons for mistrust, many of the logical actions would have been without logic. For readers who donít like so much history thrown in to their romances, this one may bog you down. For me, however, the mix was just right.

I highly recommend The Ranger and look forward to more stories of the Highland Guard from McCarty.

--Shirley Lyons


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