by Teresa Medeiros, historical (2010)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-5788-6
Emmaline Marlowe steels her nerves and tries not to break down and do something stupid as she walks down the aisle, determined to marry the elderly laird of the Hepburn clan. Because her father has gambled and drunk away the family fortune, Emma knows that it is up to her to marry this old man who will help pay off his father's debts and allow her family to stay out of debtor's prison. However, before she can bring herself to say the necessary words that will seal her fate, the ceremony is interrupted by Jamie Sinclair and his merry men. Our hero takes Emma with him, determined to hold her for ransom. The Sinclairs and the Hepburns have a feud, you see, going all the way back.
The Devil Wears Plaid sounds like every other romance set in 19th century Scotland, and for its first half, that is exactly what I get. Nothing seems surprising, apart from perhaps the fact that Jamie is actually not happy to use Emma as a pawn in his games with Hepburn. It is only the feeling of duty to his people that compels him to swallow his distaste and do the necessary. If Emma collapses from exhaustion twice under his "care", it's because of his thoughtlessness rather than deliberate cruelty. Now that this excuses him in any way, but Jamie is far from the arrogant mule stereotype that is typically present in stories of this kind. But the rest of the script follows a predictable route. We have a jealous ex-lover of Jamie, a kindly old woman who will explain to Emma the nature of the emotional scars borne by Jamie, the fact that Emma feels more at home with the enemies to the point that she discovers that she is free to be herself for the first time, the way Emma decides that she'd rather be ruined by Jamie before she goes back to her old husband-to-be... all the familiar characters and tropes are present here.
But just when I am ready to use this book as a pillow for a nice long nap, the second half sees Ms Medeiros pulling the rug from under me by doing a complete 180 by that point. Things stop being too predictable. Emotions begin to flow, causing turbulent ripples across the pages as both Emma and Jamie are forced to examine their feelings for each other as old wounds are reopened anew. The plot takes a few twists and turns that are not exactly predictable. The best part about this unexpectedly enjoyable second half is that both characters are forced to confront issues that they have chosen to ignore up to that point. Emma finds the reason and the courage to stop being a martyr and to start making decisions for herself while Jamie is forced to reexamine his priorities when he realizes that everything he believes in up to that point may not be right.
Curiously enough, while Emma becomes a much stronger person by the last page, Jamie persists in running away from his problems right until the very end. It is Emma who calls him on his nonsense, accusing him rightly of being a coward for opting to give her up rather than to man up and confront his personal demons. When Emma has to do this the third time in this story, I have a feeling that she may have to keep doing this for the rest of her happily ever after with Jamie. That guy is really not good in dealing with problems since he always walks away from them while making weak excuses about how he is doing this for the sake of everyone else.
Still, this second half of The Devil Wears Plaid is very strong and readable. The pacing of this book is excellent and the author's narrative is engaging, so when she doesn't hold back her punches in the later half of the book, I feel as if I've been battered and bruised all over and I love every minute of that. Turbulent emotions, dramatic confrontations resulting from stormy revelations, character growth - all of these come together to allow the second half of the story to pack a really powerful punch where I am concerned. While the first half of the book could be read on autopilot mode because of how clichéd the whole proceeding is, the second half provides a most satisfying payoff for my patience in wading through that weaker first half.
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