Devil in a Kilt

Knight in My Bed
by Sue-Ellen Welfonder
(Warner, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-446-61034-8
Perusing the turgid quagmire of ponderous loquacity in this vacuous tome purveys all the delectation of a stroll through wet cement. To wit: “The hum of angry voices pierced the blessed refuge of Donall MacLean’s deep slumber with all the subtleness of a heavy-handed peasant battling moonbeams with a rusted scythe.” Donall, laird of the MacLeans, emerges from his unconscious state to hear something that is the hallmark of this book - people talking about what they’re going to do, instead of doing it.

In this case, the “unsmiling greybeards” at the door of his dungeon are members of the MacInnes clan and they blame Donall for the death of Lileas, daughter of the old MacInnes laird and sister of the current chieftain, Isolde. They’ve got lots of ideas for his punishment: “Nip his flesh with white-hot pincers, expose him to showers of offal and ceaseless floggings. Pour molten lead down his throat and force him to fetch pebbles from a cauldron of boiling oil…” etc. etc.

They are “an unlikely assemblage to be spouting brazen words, but the hatred simmering in their aged eyes brandmarked them as the crazed minions who’d rained such vile threats upon him.”

Fortunately for Donall, Lady Isolde has different plans. She intends to have him brought secretly to her room at night (presumably after the menfolk have finished pincing and flogging for the day), seduce him into getting her with child and send him home. She’ll have the baby, the two clans will fall on each other’s necks with glad hosannas and everyone will live happily ever after. I really don’t understand why Isolde thinks that having Donall’s bastard would make their people like each other better, particularly since most of the MacInnes and MacLean men are portrayed as having more bulk than brains, but that’s her story and she’s sticking to it.

But my biggest problem with this book is the overblown language and leaden imagery. I have the awful feeling that some authors believe this thesaurus-mining makes them sound erudite and literary. In fact, having to spend every reading moment trying to figure out what the heck she’s trying to say is exhausting, and because the ostentatious tone never varies it slows the pace of the book down to a crawl.

It also completely smothers characterization. For one thing, Isolde, Donall and all the characters speak in the same tortured phraseology so it’s impossible to get any sense of who they are. For another, when a man says things like “If not to offer yourself in marriage nor, as you deny, to have me initiate you into the joys of carnal pleasure…then why all the secrecy? What mysterious revelation do you care to make, or expect hear from me, that cannot be breeched in a dungeon cell?” he doesn’t sound like a dashing hero, he sounds like a pompous windbag. To my mind, in a romance, that would be counter-productive.

And Isolde is as resolute as a flag in a gale. When she’s not dithering and talking she’s dithering and thinking. By halfway through the book I didn’t care what she did, I just wanted her to do something.

Everybody is so busy pontificating that not much happens. Days pass and Donall gets shuttled back and forth between the dungeons and Isolde’s chamber because she hasn’t got the nerve to get him into bed even when he’s chained to the furniture. Frankly, I’m not sure which was the more horrible torture - being half-drowned in cold, filthy water by day or being yapped at by Isolde all night. It just drags on and on.

In fact, although the book is 370 pages long, there’s only about 100 pages worth of story. With all the multi-syllabic hyperbole it just takes everybody - including the narrator - three times as long as necessary to say anything.

I say: no, thanks.

--Judi McKee

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