by Elizabeth English, historical (2004)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-19388-8
Elizabeth English's The Linnet, on the surface, seems to feature a refreshing non-glorified look at the feuds of the Highland clans. The heroine, Maude Darnley, is at the wrong place and the wrong time during a raid in the prologue. You can imagine the fate that befalls her. Her father, Darnley retaliates by going on a bloody spree on anyone he believes could have been responsible while Maude retreats into herself, acting cold and haughty to stop people from finding out that she may be going mad. Into this household comes Ronan Fitzgerald, the apprentice of the late taibhsear that helped Lady Maude in healing as well as in providing psychological support. Ronan has no clear picture of what happened to Maude or what is going on in the Darnley household, but soon he is caught in the family drama when an ambitious woman schemes to get rid of Maude to solidify her position in the household. Likewise, external conflicts stemming from the feud between the Darnleys and the Kirallens begin to pile.
While the author is very successful in creating a few first chapters that make Maude a very sympathetic and compelling heroine, the external machinations in the plot soon take over the story, putting Maude and Ronan's romance in the backburner. I find these conflicts of a rather predictable nature. While this story has a large cast and these secondary characters actually play their roles in the story, I find myself wishing that the romance has become the main priority in this story. Maude is interesting. The same-old familiar nature of the plot doesn't hold up to Maude's story. The author has probably shot her chances at creating a more compelling plot by choosing to pit the Kirallens against the Darnleys. The Kirallens are the main characters of Ms English's previous books. Well, of course these guys won't do wrong. So what could have been a more satisfying and realistic tale of Highland feuds is reduced into a more simplistic "why can't we all get along and be one big happy family" premise.
Maude is cold and haughty and nasty but she has very good reasons to be. I really sympathize with her, and here is where Ms English's greatest success clearly lies. Maude is a very fascinating heroine. Unfortunately, I find Ronan grating. I'm sure he's meant to be the pacifist, all-sage guy to administer the sexual healing on Maude, but he is also a terribly whiny pipsqueak, moaning on and on about why he has to be here with the Darnleys, why must people fight, moan moan moan. I am also amused by how, after hearing Maude's tragic ordeal, he immediately switches gears from "Why oh why do I kiss that horrible woman?" to "She's mine, we're meant to be, oh, oh, oh!" Give me a break. If he's going to be the perfect fantasy dream guy in this story, the least he can do is to not act like a petulant whiny brat when he's in a situation not of his liking.
I like how Ms English tries to create something different at first in The Linnet, but by the last page, the story has become more predictable and formulaic than I would have liked. For a book that's halfway different, The Linnet isn't bad at all. Still, it sure will be nice if the hero and the external conflicts are more interesting than they actually are in the story.
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