My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Quick Take: This book was utter magnificence. The male protagonist was extremely compelling. In fact, I fell in love with the whole cast, and will consider this series "auto-buy" from now on.
The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.Review:
The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.
Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.
And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.
This is yet another book that presented difficulty to me. You see, I enjoyed it very much; so much so that I find it hard to adequately convey my enthusiasm. But it seems such a shame to read the book and do naught but numerically rate it. Therefore...
This is the first book in a series that's apparently meant to focus on the four brothers of the Scottish Mackenzie clan. The family has a long and storied history, much of it painful and unfortunate. This particular installment is about the youngest and arguably most tragic of the lot, Lord Ian. His particular condition is nameless, unaccepted and misunderstood in that time and place. Today he might have been thought an austistic savant, or perhaps someone with Asperger syndrome. In this story, people simply label him "crazy."
As always, I was quite attentive to the characters themselves (typically my favorite aspect of a book). Fortunately the author seems to have been, as well. ^_^ Jennifer Ashley presents an absolutely intriguing portrayal of the male protagonist. Due to the nature of his thought processes as well as his traumatizing(!!!) past, his character provides much of the novel's mystery. His interactions vary greatly amongst the other characters in the book, revealing a man not "crazy" but immensely complex. Ian is easily one of the more interesting characters I've ever come across in a romance tale.
The female protagonist, widow Beth Ackerly, made for a great pairing. Nominally she seems to be the least sensible match for someone like Lord Ian, but her own past hurts (a lost spouse) and considerable strengths (triumphing over a poor upbringing) make her interesting when played against the dramatic Mackenzie family.
...and as for the Mackenzies. Wow. Though the book is "about" Ian and Beth, the rest of the clan is not neglected story-wise. Each of the brothers have been well fleshed out. Ms. Ashley made this book as much about family as anything else.
"Anything else," in addition to the central romance, refers to a mystery-laced murder subplot (a "whodunit"). It provided some exciting thrills and got me truly caught up in the process, but in truth the thread--including its resolution--was not the most arresting I've ever seen. In retrospect it was the weakest element of the book....which really means little, since it'd still be the best part of any other book. ^_^
This is only my third "historical romance," but even so it's clear there was something special here. The tale endeared me not only to the featured couple, but to the entire Mackenzie clan. I even love the family dogs! Ms. Ashley began brewing a plot thread that will boil over spectacularly into the next installation of the series: unreliable artist Mac Mackenzie's dealings with his estranged wife Isabella. I can't wait to read it!