With the full title being When the Laird Returns: Book Two of the Highland Lords, I worried immediately that I had not read Book One. No need to be concerned, not only does this novel stand on its own, there is no obvious reference to the first book. (I did discover through TRR archives that Book One is the story of the hero’s parents).
Iseabal Drummond struggles with her hatred of her father, a man who cares nothing for her, beats her mother and seems to be more concerned about his sheep than his people. Iseabal has learned to hide her emotions and mask her fear, or things go worse for her and her mother. She seeks a few hours of refuge in the ruins of the McRae fortress called Gilmuir, seeking stones for her carving. She spies a great stone in one of the ruins, only to fall into the pit when she tries to retrieve it. Enter Alisdair McRae.
Alisdair has returned to Gilmuir on a pilgrimage, if you will. He has grown up in Nova Scotia, where the majority of the clan has resettled following the Jacobite uprisings and the defeat of the clan by the English. When he discovers Iseabal, he rescues her and she returns to her home.
Before he leaves to go to London, Alisdair discovers that someone, namely Iseabal’s father, is using his land to feed his sheep. He sets off to let him know that the McRaes have reclaimed the land, and to keep his sheep to himself. Drummond offers to sell the land back to the McRaes, claiming the English gave him deed to it. When Drummond finds out how rich Alisdair is, he adds one item to the bargain…Iseabal in marriage.
Forced to choose between paying Drummond and leaving, or staying to fight a battle in English courts, Alisdair chooses to pay the price, get his land and wed Iseabal. Iseabal has no choice and acquiesces, knowing that being wed to an unknown, but seemingly kind stranger has to be better than her life of fear with her father.
The drama takes Alisdair and Iseabal to England, where Alisdair claims an English title. (This is one of those items in a story you just have to accept, as it seems Alisdair’s father is the son of a British Earl). I found this part of the story to be a little pointless in the scheme of things, but it does give the couple a reason for traveling together and time to fall in love. And fall in love they do.
The romance is sweet, with both of them learning to trust and sharing their thoughts. Their lovemaking is enticing and sensual. Iseabal is a fast learner, and Alisdair a fine teacher. This is one of the most engaging parts of the tale, as the depth of the love they have sustains them as they encounter future obstacles. I enjoyed their romantic discovery.
As for the heart of the story, Ranney feels the need to add complication upon complication. First we have Alisdair’s dilemma about whether he will accept the British title and all it entails, followed by the decision to go to Gilmuir and rebuild it to its former splendor. Just as it seems as if they will have the joy of building a life together, Drummond intervenes and presents danger to both Alisdair and Iseabal. It is through this conflict that the love they have for each other must endure to reach their happy ending. Unfortunately, this conflict is multi-faceted, which leaves me with the feeling that there is too much thrown in for good measure, and most of the conflict and its resolution is unsurprising.
Characters such as the English grandmother, Iseabal’s mother, her long lost love and the four McRae brothers come in and out of the story to provide advice, to provide a chance to view the values of family and to help in the crisis resolution. There are a few twists, but generally these family members are the tried and true that can be found in any tale of the Scottish Highlands.
Alisdair as a hero is a riddle…strong, gentle, easy going and likable. Yet most of the time, I found his actions blasé and his reactions uneventful and lacking any real emotion. Iseabal is the predictable tormented heroine who pulls into herself when confronted with conflict, a natural defense learned as a child. She briefly breaks out of this…uncharacteristically with no real anxiety …only to retreat when confronted with animosity again. This sense of what I think the author was trying to portray as vulnerability presents itself more as withdrawal and lack of courage, neither of which are traits I can fully admire in a heroine.
When The Laird Returns is one of those books that for true Scottish Highland enthusiasts might have all you would enjoy. But for those who are looking for more than that, this is merely acceptable.