The Dark Highlander
by Karen Marie Moning, paranormal (2002)
Dell, $6.99, ISBN 0-440-23755-6


I am most amused to read a review on Amazon from a supposedly big fan of Karen Marie Moning who complains that "there is too much weird stuff" happening in this book. Uhm, we are talking about Karen Marie Moning, right? She has written nothing but paranormal Scottish romances under her name, so I'd expect "weird stuff" to be part and parcel of her books by now. Heh.

Anyway, my biggest complain about The Dark Highlander is that it does have very interesting fantasy elements of epic-like, bombastic battles between good and evil, but it chooses to sweep compelling themes like accountability, sanity, and other stuff over sex. Sex, sex, sex. While I say that there's no such thing as too much sex, unfortunately in this case the hero Dageus MacKeltar loses me when he calls a Skank Disposable in the first chapter "Katie-lass". Since sleeping with a walking He-Man Fabio caricature is not my idea of a sexual fantasy, especially when this Fabio tosses around "lass" to his bedmates, I get frustrated when what I believe are the more interesting elements in this story - the fantasy - get sidelined for the Barbarian and Barbie Sex Show.

Dageus, in the author's previous book To Kiss A Highlander, rescues his twin brother only to get into trouble with the spirit of thirteen evil druids. These druids want control of his soul. Anyway, to save himself, he needs to have sex. Lots of sex. (Druids, oh druids, come and take me now, baby.) Our heroine Chloe Zanders is a wisecracking virgin - fans of Ms Moning's books may find Chloe a bit familiar by now - who has to deliver an old scroll, and she is not happy that a grubby rich bum like Daggy gets to manhandle scrolls real students of antiquities like her can only dream of playing with. Then she realizes that Daggy is hoarding more secret stuff that he shouldn't be hoarding, and wham! He kidnaps her. And to save himself, he must have lots and lots of sex with her.

Wait, druids, don't take me. Take Goran Visnjic! Yes, that tall, dark, handsome guy with the sexiest eyes and dimples ever on ER - take him. I have lots of moldy books in my attic I'd happy to take to a possessed Mr Visnjic's place.

You know, Chloe may try to be smart and wisecrack-ey, but she's rather dim. She trusts this Daggy guy too soon - would you trust a guy who has Sexual Harassment tattooed on his forehead? - and she really does a lot of stupid things throughout this novel. Daggy is a one-note hoga-hoga brawn Chippendale Fabio with Scottish phallic-o-ramas on full display. If he breaks into a "Would ye like ta kiss mah big MacKeltar scepter, Chloe-lass? Ye aught! Now ye take off these things called panties now!" it wouldn't be out of character. He is such a stereotype. He's supposed to be a 16th century guy transplanted into the 21st century, but he is such a walking cheesy Chippendale porn creation that I can't help but to roll up my eyes.

Romance novels are fantasies, but I wish Ms Moning is a little more subtle in selling her very obvious Mary Sue tale.

Newcomers to this author's series may want to be careful. The author's prose can become what online folks calls call "too meta", ie sometimes she seems to be writing for people who get her jokes, other people be danged. I don't think opening paragraphs such as "Across the ocean in not Scotland but England, a land where Drustan MacKeltar had once erroneously claimed the Druids scarce possessed enough knowledge to weave a simple sleep spell, a hushed and urgent conversation was taking place" (Chapter Two) would be useful to newbies, who must be now scratching their heads as they ask aloud, "Drustan who? Why can't the author just say it's in England instead of doing the silly curly rigmarole prose thing?"

I like the paranormal elements, but I get frustrated when the author drops concepts but never elaborate on them. The Druids are trapped in a "dimension" - but what dimension, I ask? How does it work? Time's a dimension, is that it? Likewise, other interesting concepts are dropped and then ignored in favor of the Barbarian's Barbie Seduction, and if you ask me, it's way too easy to seduce the dim-witted Barbie. It's no fun at all.

With this book, the author seems to be writing either exclusively for her loyal fans or the members of the Fabio for Duncan McLeod Petition And Appreciation Society. I wonder if that is wise. This book is marketed as "fiction", and I wish the author has balanced the Barbie fantasy better with the more compelling paranormal elements that she mishandles so criminally glibfully and flippantly. I like some aspects of this book, but the overall package has too much red meat for my liking, and I have to watch my cholesterol levels, you know.

Rating: 76


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