Highland Destiny

Highland Knight

Highland Vow


Wild Roses

Highland Hearts by Hannah Howell
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6925-1
Highland Hearts is a reissue of a book previously published under the pen name of Sandra Dustin and, frankly, Iím not sure why anybody thought we needed to see it again. Itís mostly inoffensive, but I canít remember the last time I read a book and had so little interest in the characters or the outcome.

Following the death of her parents when she was 13, Tess was sent to live with her motherís brother. One day, five years later, while taking a shortcut through her uncleís dungeons, Tess discovers Revan Halyard chained in one of the cells. She stops to chat and he convinces her that heís been locked up merely for having the audacity to court her uncleís daughter, Brenda. Tess unlocks the door, unshackles Revan, and points him toward a secret passage that will take him to the stables.

Unfortunately Uncle Fergus interrupts them in mid-jailbreak and Revan takes Tess hostage in order to escape.

Apparently Tess got her brains from her motherís side of the family, because even while Revan has his knife to Tessís throat Fergus totally forgets that heís anxious to inherit the enormous fortune left to Tess by her mother and which she officially gained control of on her eighteenth birthday. The previous day.

The pair is galloping away from the keep before Fergus slaps himself in the forehead, remembers that he wants her dead and sends his archers after them.

Unlike Tess, the reader doesnít believe for a second that Revanís only offense was hankering after Fergusís promiscuous daughter and it isnít long before he confesses that he is a spy in the service of King James the Second. Her uncle is suspected of conspiring with the Black Douglases against the king and Revan was trying to, um, pump Brenda for information. At which he was totally unsuccessful in every sense of the word.

Listening to Revan, Tess realizes that she actually knows quite a bit about her uncleís treasonous activities. She shares this information with Revan because, since her uncle is trying to kill her, she owes him no loyalty.

Tess, whose full name is Contessa Comyn Delgado (which I found confusing - was Contessa her name or a title?) is of mixed Scots and Spanish blood. Her fatherís Spanish family has inter-married with the Scots and there are Comyns and Delgados aplenty in Scotland who would shelter and protect her if she can only reach them. Sheíll never find them without Revanís help, however, because people in her fatherís family have a sense of direction so bad they can ďget lost climbing out of bed.Ē

Poor Tess is pretty much swimming in the shallow end of everybodyís gene pool.

Having effectively established the intelligence of the entire cast, the book settles down into a rather plodding road trip that is almost completely free of tension or suspense.

Sure, there are chases and near misses that Iím sure are meant to be hair raising, but with such extraordinarily incompetent villains, really, who could get excited?

Equally unconvincing is the scruple Sir Revan has to living happily ever after with Tess. Sheís wealthy, heís got nothing but honor, pride and strength, and people will think he married her for her money. The fact that his primary objection is based on what the neighbors will think is rendered even less compelling when we realize that everybody - including the loving half of Tessís family - thinks this is a match made in heaven (he gets rich, she gets protection, everybodyís happy). All he has to change is his mind, and waiting for him to get around to it wasnít exactly riveting.

Mostly, I just dinna ken why I should care.

--Judi McKee

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