Untamed Highlander
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Regular readers of this column (Hi, Mom!) might know by now that when it comes to romance novels, I’ve definitely got a “type”—much as one might prefer blondes over brunettes. I very much enjoy historical romances set in the Scottish Highlands, and I also have a fondness for fantasy or supernatural elements. So when I saw Untamed Highlander by Donna Grant, I couldn’t help but give it a shot. But although it’s a perfectly serviceable novel, it’s nothing to write home about.

In the summer of 1603, somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, we meet Hayden Campbell. Hayden is a Warrior, a member of a race of people who all have gods inside them, enabling the individual to be immortal and possess supernatural abilities. Warriors are the sworn enemies of the evil Dierdre, who lives deep in the mountains of Cairn Toul. Dierdre is the head drough, or evil Druid, and she’s made it her life’s work to eradicate the mies, or good Druids, and steal their powers. During the ensuing battle with Hayden and the other Warriors, Dierdre loses her body, though she remains in spirit form, having to slowly regain her magic. In the meantime, though, the Warriors are able to rescue her captives.

Among the captives is the beautiful Isla, a mie who voluntarily turned drough in a vain attempt to save her family from being ravaged by Dierdre. During her recuperation at Castle McLeod (where Hayden has lived since Dierdre murdered his own clan), can Isla fight off Dierdre’s attempts to control her mind? Can Hayden overcome his hatred of all things drough to fully embrace Isla? And will Dierdre be defeated, once and for all?

Anybody who reads fantasy fiction or even just romance novels in general has to be able to suspend their disbelief a good degree. It’s easiest to do that when the author gives you at least semi-plausible reasons for things being the way they are (for example, Kressley Cole’s explanation, in her Immortals After Dark series, of how Valkyrie are created). But Grant doesn’t do that with this book. We have no idea how the “gods” got into these Warriors or why. We don’t know why Dierdre is so evil or such a threat. Basically, we have no explanation for any of the more fantastical aspects of the story other than “It’s magic; that’s why” (though I give the author credit for not using the ultra-played-out form, “magick”). And I had a hard time caring about the characters or their supernatural abilities because I didn’t understand their genesis or powers.

The most basic problem with this book, then, is that Grant doesn’t sufficiently flesh out the details. The book runs 325 pages in length, which is already pretty long, but adding some more detail or background information wouldn’t have to add too much to the length.

I also found myself not caring much about Isla and Hayden. Their love/hate relationship is more like lust/hate until the very end of the novel, when the epiphany where they finally realize that they love each other comes completely out of the blue. Meanwhile, Isla is just too much of a “Mary Sue”—or a perfect woman—for my tastes. She did terrible, disgusting things—though all while until Dierdre’s control—yet everyone just gives her a pass. Anyone who comes in contact with her simply falls under her charms, and I just can’t stand girls like that. Hayden apparently didn’t mind, though, because he and Isla spend a few scenes in her bedroom. Though I found the sex scenes to be amateurish, at least there were real sex scenes, instead of just a passing mention of passion.

All in all, I wasn’t really impressed by Untamed Highlander. It needed more detail—and more reason to care about the characters. I personally wouldn’t read it again, but, since it’s part of a series, others who share my interest in Scottish fantasy might want to check it out.

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