Master Of The Highlands
by Sue-Ellen Welfonder, historical (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61233-2


If Master Of The Highlands is Sue-Ellen Welfonder's apology for the barely-readable Bride Of The Beast, well, okay, apology is accepted... sort of. While infinitely superior to Bride Of The Beast, Master Of The Highlands however written in such a purple, overly florid, and overblown prose that the result can be very off-putting.

Iain MacLean loses it when his wife dies and he ends up destroying the MacLean chapel. True, the MacLean prophecy thingie talks about each MacLean falling in love so deeply with one woman that he cannot live without her, but don't be fooled into thinking that Iain loves this wife. He actually loses it because he's guilty that he doesn't love her enough. Or something. So much drama for so little reasons. How typically male. Anyway, let's spare a thought for Dead and Unlamented Wife here, because if we don't, nobody else will. Dead Wife, we hardly knew you. Anyway, back to story - as penance for destroying the chapel, Iain has to embark on a pilgrimage across Scotland. He then encounters Madeline Drummond, a woman bent on vengeance but alas, lacking the brainpower to pull off her plan. To save her from one of her many failed hijinks, Iain decides to pretend that they're married.

The description of the lepers and the unwashed masses make for some very interesting reading, especially when pilgrimages aren't usually featured in medieval Scottish romances. However, the author seems to place more concern on overusing every adjective she can find in her dictionary instead of concentrating on her characters and plot. Madeline is the ubiquitous "full of passion, nary a brain" heroine whose desires and passions lead to more trouble than anything else. We're talking about a heroine that sinks into several pages of wide-eyed ga-ga infatuated ruminations about the hero when they are still in trouble. Iain is a more problematic character in that his personality seems to change with each chapter.

But the biggest problem is the writing. Phrases like "Feeling as if he no longer teetered quite close to the edge of a dark abyss, Iain drew a deep, rejuvenating breath, doubly pleased to note the air held a wee hint of heather" and "he wanted to know, his tone calm as the sea on a windless day, his freckled face once more the pinnacle of blandness" may be amusing or dramatic if they are used occasionally, but every sentence? Every paragraph? Especially when these overblown phraseology actually mean very little in the first place? There is a big difference in writing elegantly and writing in an overblown redundant manner, and Ms Welfonder is in the latter camp here. I mean, what's the difference between "confidence" and Iain's "supremely male confidence"? What, I'm not supposed to know that Iain is male until the author reminds me so?

Sure, when I was younger, I finished the equally verbose Wuthering Heights and ended up loving every word in that book. But this book is definitely not Wuthering Heights - it's just a tale of a silly woman and a man that seems to suffer from bipolar disorder. No amount of prettification in the prose, even if the author insists on slathering purple paint over every overdecorated paragraph of hers, can hide that fact. Add in some prophecy and destiny mumbo-jumbo and this book is like a purple prose elephant trying to walk the tightrope, only to crash onto the ground with a resounding turd, I mean, "thud".

Rating: 58


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