|Karen Ranney offers readers a solid historical romance with The Devil Wears Tartan. The Victorian setting and a plot based on real events give it a sense of authenticity, but a sagging middle may not hold every reader’s interest.
When the story opens, Davina McLaren is leaving Edinburgh to marry a man she’s never met: Marshall Ross, the Earl of Lorne. Davina’s impulsive curiosity led to a scandal in which she was ruined (and the author doesn’t skimp here - she really was ruined) so her marital prospects are nil. The earl was a well-known diplomat last posted to China, where things went very badly and a number of his men died. Since returning to Scotland, Marshall - now known as the Devil Earl - has holed up at his estate. Rumor has it that he’s gone insane. But he needs an heir, and wishes to wed quickly so the Ross line doesn’t die out. Marshall has no desire to participate in any social events to seek a bride. Davina fits the bill, and he doesn’t care about her reputation.
The wedding takes place at Marshall’s estate, and he and Davina find each other quite attractive. The wedding night is a pleasant surprise to them both, as they experience an unexpected passion and ease with one another. But Marshall is tormented by nightmarish visions. He is terrified that he will slip into one of his hallucinations and end up killing Davina, so he retreats from her. Davina, spunky lass that she is, will have none of it and pursues Marshall, insisting that he talk about his troubles. Oh, and they both want more sex, since it seems to comfort them both and draw them closer together for a short time.
There is a subplot involving Davina’s aunt, who is much more than just a social butterfly, and Marshall’s uncle, who has made a fortune in a very unsavory shipping business. When the reader is clued in that Marshall was forcibly addicted to opium while imprisoned in China, a huge red flag will go up regarding his hallucinations. Luckily for readers, Karen Ranney can draw a red herring with the best of them.
Davina is intelligent and curious without being anachronistic, and Marshall is basically a great guy except for those pesky nightmares. The scenes where she stands up to him and even outwits him are the best in the book. The only thing standing in their way is Marshall’s fear that he’s going mad (not that it isn’t a huge issue to him) so the book starts to replay some scenes about halfway through. Marshall fears for his sanity. They have great sex. He pushes her away. She pursues him. They have great sex. He pushes her away... you get the idea. Not that I didn’t find them both interesting, but the story felt as though it wandered in circles for a while before moving along.
The ending is entertaining and inventive, with Davina cast in the role of heroine to save Marshall in an unusual way. Kudos to the author for surprising the reader; not everyone is what they seem. I enjoyed it.
The Devil Wears Tartan has little to do with Scotland other than the title, but readers looking for a Victorian-set romance with a little intrigue will likely enjoy it very much.