The Irresistible MacRae
by Karen Ranney, historical (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82105-2


Karen Ranney is one of the few authors who excel in character introspection. Some authors love to do internal monologues but the result is like having someone sawing away at my skull (Robin Schone and Shannon McKenna, come to the reception and collect your prizes please), but Karen Ranney? Her characters can drown me with psychobabble anytime, anyday. Sometimes her stories seem to be such that external plots are merely annoying intrusions to the intimate, personal world inhabited only by the hero and the heroine.

The trouble is, we need a plot in a story - or so it seems in Ms Ranney's books anyway. The author is always doing a fine tightrope-balancing act between pacing and introspection. She doesn't always succeed, but when she does (see After The Kiss), the result is spellbinding magic.

The Irresistible MacRae, the third book in the author's The Highland Lords saga, sees the author fumbling with not only pacing but also in plotting. The emotional intensity of the last few chapters is very well done, but the build-up can be frustratingly slow-moving. The introspection, though, is beautifully done and in the end this tilts my opinion of this book towards a more favorable side.

Riona McKinsey is hopelessly compromised, and while she resents her predicament, she really cannot see a way out of this mess, not when her sister's happiness hangs in the balance. Here, Ms Ranney does an excellent job in fleshing out Riona so much so that she is a victim not of misguided martyrhood but a victim of her loved ones' willingness to let sacrifice her for their own reasons. In a plot best left unelaborated because it, to be blunt, makes little sense, her mother ends up getting James MacRae over in hope that he can... you know what, I really don't know what the mother thinking. I'll explain later, but at this point, let's just say he and Riona fall for each other, but with the obstacles such as someone wanting to kill him and her impending marriage in their way, it won't be easy.

Actually, it can be very easy, as the penultimate resolution of the story show. These characters just take a long time to go about helping themselves out of their predicaments.

But the plot remains a bewildering mess. Riona's mother Susanna first makes it seem that Riona must marry her unwanted suitor for the sake of the sister. Then, behind Riona, she plots to make James stay under false pretenses and have James and Riona thrown together. I thought she would be happy when those two fall in love but then she opposes their relationship when those two would have given in and run off to Gretna Green or something. Maybe that woman is schizophrenic, I don't know, but if she is, Ms Ranney should have told me. As it is, Susanna puts the plot in motion, but she and her plot make no sense at all. This story is built on quicksand, and by the middle of the book, it's sinking fast.

Yet, Riona, like most of this author's heroines, is a real character with emotions both noble and ignoble. Riona gets angry, she wants to be selfish, she gets angry with her family and with herself for the mess she is in, and even if her decisions aren't necessarily the right ones, I can understand why she does what she did. That's important and good - I understand Riona and she is a well-realized character. James is a more typical hero, rakish and gorgeous and noble. He is less vividly drawn than Riona, but he complements Riona wonderfully in their relationship.

The introspection is the strongest part of this book. I don't know how the author can insert elegant, moving, and melodramatic turn of phrases in a way that is poetic and natural at the same time. I don't think there are many authors who can use a phrase like "You make prayers sound like wishes" in a context that makes it sound like the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing one could ever say to another. There's the magic of this author's prose: she can be unabashedly romantic without sounding more corny than a field of maize. Her characters can be the most cynical people ever, but when love hits them, they fly despite their best judgments. Maybe she should give no-hopers like Nicholas Sparks some lessons.

Sometimes a very good introspective romance can have me tuning out annoying things like external plots to have the time of my life. Unfortunately, The Irresistible MacRae doesn't even have a decent plot to begin with. These people can psychobabble me all the way to heaven, but the thing is, half the way I'm also trying to make sense of the plot. Now that's what I call annoying.

Rating: 83


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