I hereby propose a new genre that will encompass all Scottish love stories set during and immediately after the last Jacobite rebellion. Furthermore, let there be two sub-genres, which we shall distinguish as “Gabaldonesque” and “Gabaldon-Lite.” Karen Ranney’s new book belongs to the latter division, and as it lacks any significant distinguishing characteristics, One Man’s Love quickly becomes One Woman’s Chore for the heather-gorged among us.
Alec Landers, the child of an English earl and a Scotswoman, passes his childhood summers at Gilmuir, home of his Highlands kinsmen. Known to them by the name of Ian MacRae, he nurses a fierce love for his Scottish roots and a budding crush on young clanswoman Leitis. Alas, paradise crumbles when his mother is killed, apparently by a hostile clan. In turn, Ian forms a repugnance for everything Scottish, cutting all ties to the country and his heritage.
Years later, fresh from the bloody aftermath of Culloden, Alec is dispatched to the newly established fort at Gilmuir. Now a British colonel known as the “Butcher of Inverness,” he has been charged to impose peace on the rebellious Highlanders by any means necessary. One insurgent is Leitis’s uncle Hamish, whose playing of the outlawed bagpipes has provoked the current fort commander, Major Sedgewick, to torch the villagers’ homes. Alec arrives just in time to prevent the Major from harming Leitis.
Leitis does not recognize Alec, and is suspicious of him despite his efforts to save the village. Her anxieties seem justified when, after hearing her plea for Hamish’s life, he takes her as prisoner in lieu of her uncle. Yet the infamous Butcher proves himself a gracious and thoughtful captor. Ignorant of his true identity, she is appalled at her growing feelings for this enigmatic Englishman, an enemy to her by birth.
Alec, meanwhile, is increasingly troubled by the injustices perpetrated against the Scots. As his time at Gilmuir reawakens old memories and reveals buried truths, his English loyalties begin to waver. To help the Scots is treason; to deny them aid, inhuman. And so Alec chooses the most dangerous path, playing Scot by night and Englishman by day, his ultimate prize Leitis’s love, his ultimate risk, dishonor and death…
From an author who once made leprosy seem romantic, the uniform conventionality of this story is disappointing. While his Boy Scout earnestness won’t haunt my dreams, Alec is an admirable hero: intelligent, thoughtful, and mature. Most importantly, he respects Leitis greatly, trusting her with his dreams, innermost hopes, fears, just about everything -
-Except, of course, his identity. This blasted plot convention! I can tolerate it until the clothes come off, but a man who sleeps with a woman on the verbalized pretext of love, even as he willingly deludes her about his identity, is no hero. Alec (in his disguise) deludes Leitis because he’s afraid she won’t want him if she knows he’s the Butcher. Isn’t that her decision to make? Naturally, for this criticism to be valid rather than merely moralizing, I must add that Alec’s deception seems jarringly out of character.
More fitting is the sobriety with which Alec debates committing treason. Yet this internal struggle is robbed of drama by the ludicrous fruits of his vow to aid Scotland: namely, the theft of one supply cart, from which he then distributes chickens to Highlanders. They are starving, and aiding them is considered treasonous, but as the sum and total of the egregious crimes that provoke the ensuing witch hunt, the scene seems farcical rather than touching. Never has treason seemed quite so…tame.
The episode does prove one point: Such acts are treasonous only in view of a conqueror who wants to crush his subjects. Ranney admirably resists the tendency to whitewash the harsh realities of the rebellion’s aftermath. Fans of the clans will appreciate her far more interesting and accurate rendition of Scotland as a land occupied by a hostile force, and filled with grieving survivors bereft of any hope for the future.
Ach, too bad the Scots couldna foresee th’ innumerable romances tha’ would one day seek ta immortalize their cause an’ their pain. Th’ defeat might ha’ been a wee bit easier fer them ta take.