There is no love lost between Rory Forbes and his family. As a last ditch effort to win the approval of his older brother and father, Rory answers the call to arms at Culloden, Scotland in 1746. Considered the last stand for the Jacobites (supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie), the Forbes side with the English Hanovers and decimate the Jacobite rebels. But when the Duke of Cumberland orders that all Jacobites (including women and children) be killed, Rory can no longer take the horror, and walks from the battlefield.
He immediately comes across a small group of English molesting some helpless Jacobite women. Dispersing the soldiers, he promises to spirit the women out of the country and safely to France. Since keeping his own head means hiding his true identity, he tells the women that his messenger will be carrying the playing card of the Jack of Spades.
Two months later, Rory has buried both his father and brother, and ironically inherited the title of Marquis of Braemoor. Still leading a double life, Rory is playing a dangerous game. By day he is the dandy marquis, parading around in outrageous costumes, and by night he is the Black Knave spiriting away Jacobite rebels and their families.
Bethia MacDonell lost both of her older brothers at Culloden and now the Duke of Cumberland is holding her younger brother, Dougal, hostage. Using her last living relative as a bargaining chip, the Duke forces her to marry the Marquis of Braemoor. Sickened at the thought of marrying a traitor to Scotland, Bethia soon realizes that she has no choice if she wants to save Dougal. Her only hope is to bide her time with the marquis, and find the Black Knave. Surely he can help her and Dougal escape.
Rory isn’t too pleased with the idea of marriage either. His own parents despised each other, and he’s never been a big believer in the power of love. He also has to be careful, his new bride would do anything to save her brother, and that might even mean turning in the notorious Black Knave. But Rory knows that in order to not arouse suspicion to his double life, he will have to continue playing the fool, and that means marrying the lass.
Normally, I’m not too fond of heroes leading a double life. With the hero being required to use some acting skills and disguises, his true personality is often concealed to even the reader. Refreshingly, this is not the case with Rory Forbes. Patricia Potter does a wonderful job developing his character and explaining his motives. I was never confused about why Rory was doing what he was doing, and his less than idyllic past provides insight into his psyche.
Bethia is also an enjoyable heroine. She refuses to sit back and wait for fate to deal her the next round of bad luck. She is no shrinking violet, determined to escape and save her brother from the Duke. While growing up in a loving family, she has her own pain to deal with -- the death of her older brothers and parents, and the uncertainty about Dougal’s safety. She doesn’t wait for the Black Knave to come and rescue her; she takes steps to find him herself. Little does she know, that she doesn’t have to look very far.
The many secondary characters all add depth to the story: Alister, a local blacksmith and Rory's best friend; Mary, a local healer with a dubious reputation who provides Rory with equally dubious alibis; and Neil, Rory’s cousin who feels he should be running Braemoor and not his pansy cousin. Along with the suitable villain, the Duke of Cumberland, all of these characters nicely interact with Rory and Bethia creating an exciting atmosphere.
The relationship between Rory and Bethia is a bit slow to get going, mainly because they both have serious trust issues, and Rory is hiding a big secret. But the development is quite satisfying, and realistically done. They don’t fall madly in love at first sight, nor do they continue to argue and bicker throughout the whole novel. The tender moments they share are quite touching.
My one problem with the story is the use of the Scottish dialect, which is inconsistent. A perfect example of this is when a stable boy says “I willna leave ye” and later in the same paragraph “I will take you.” This changing back and forth was distracting; the accent should either have been consistently used or just left out entirely.
Aside from that, The Black Knave is an enjoyable read that easily kept me turning the pages. Nicely drawn secondary characters, and the budding romance between Rory and Bethia make Potter’s latest a sure bet for historical readers.