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A Scot to the Heart by Caroline Linden

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A Scot to the Heart

by Caroline Linden
June 29, 2021 · Avon
Contemporary RomanceLGBTQIATime TravelRomance

This guest review is from Morgan Grantwood. Morgan is an aspiring novelist with a Regency series about bluestockings in the works and degrees in English and History. But her day job, where she writes millions of words per year, sometimes gets in her way. So she reads and reviews other people’s books instead.

Do you ever read one of those books where you admire and respect the narrative choices, but those same choices leave you feeling unsatisfied by the time you get to the end? A Scot to the Heart was one of those for me. There is no way to discuss it without spoilers, so read this review at your own risk.

You want great characters and excellent character development? This book delivers, especially in the heroine, Ilsa Ramsay, who changes and grows during the book and exists firmly as her own person, not just to shine the light on the hero. You want an interesting plot with several plotlines? This book delivers. You want attention to detail in setting, clothing, and period-appropriate gear? This book delivers. Objectively, it’s a really good book. I think for other people, it would be an A, just as the first book in this series, About a Rogue, was for me. But this one is sitting in B territory because the ending was profoundly unsatisfying, despite it delivering a HEA for the main couple.

While the story does an absolutely phenomenal job of showing the horrible effects of gossip on the closed world of upper-class ladies in the Eighteenth Century, the majority of this book takes a quite light, charming and humorous tone, including one of the most fun and interesting house parties I have ever read. And then, in the last third, it all turns into woe and mayhem caused by a profound injustice that goes completely unpunished, despite massively dire consequences for certain secondary characters and the heroine as well.

It’s the injustice unpunished part that sticks in my craw. It is still sticking now as I write this.

This is the second novel in The Desperately Seeking Duke series. Because The Duke of Carlyle has been mentally incapacitated, his mother, the Dowager Duchess, has located the next male relatives in line to inherit. Scottish Army officer Andrew St. James, the hero of A Scot to the Heart, is one and returns to Scotland to resign his commission, tell his family, and do a bit of business for the Ducal estate.

Not wanting to cause disruption in his family’s small home, he stays with his best friend, lawyer Felix Duncan. His first night home, he and Felix go to an oyster cellar where he dances with a mysterious dark-haired beauty. He flirts with her and kisses her at the end of the evening. He soon learns that she is his sister Agnes’ closest friend, the wealthy widow Ilsa Ramsay, daughter of William Fletcher, Edinburgh’s best cabinetmaker and a member of the Town Council.

From this initial attraction, their relationship builds through friendship as they learn to like each other and laugh with each other before they fall in love. It’s really one of the most joyful courtships I’ve seen in romance in some time and it’s refreshing and wonderful. They share a sense of fun, are both good humored, and they match with each other.

Ilsa is a widow emerging from a psychologically abusive marriage and a severely sheltered upbringing. She is attempting to find out who she really is, rather than who everyone told her she must be. She’s trying to break free of the past and be her fun-loving and mildly eccentric true self, and everyone around her is trying to stop this change by worrying what the neighbors will think. And the people who are trying to get her to stay within the lines are not actually wrong to do so. Malicious rumor and gossip are an antagonist in this book, and the actual villain uses it to his advantage.

As the book progresses, Drew finds a way to make some of his new duties on behalf of the Duchy of Carlyle fun by inviting his friends and family to Stormont Palace for one of the best house parties I’ve read in some time. There’s hanky panky and shenanigans and it’s just really fun. The whole courtship is like that: sweet, fun, hot, and everything that I could wish for. But there’s another plot running alongside Drew and Ilsa’s romance: Edinburgh is suffering a string of robberies against the merchants of the town. William Fletcher, Ilsa’s father, the most prominent cabinetmaker in Edinburgh, is accused of participating in the robberies.

Instead of proving his innocence, he runs away from town. Ilsa has to face the humiliation and blame and shame alone, until it becomes unbearable. She attempts to go after her father, and Drew goes with her – pursued by the authorities who believe Ilsa is also an accomplice.

Show Spoiler

The big plot reveal happens here, as does the revelation of who the actual villain is. It ends up with Isla sworn to secrecy to protect that villain’s identity and to cover up their crimes.

While this novel absolutely has a very HEA for the hero and heroine when it comes to their relationship, the fact that Ilsa has to endure humiliation and loss and has to cover for the person who caused all the trouble in the first place, isn’t really happy for me. A truly despicable person getting away with everything offends my sense of justice. The bad guy totally gets away with it and ruins people’s lives. I hate seeing real evil triumph in the end.

The second plot felt unnecessary when I thought about it, too. Ilsa’s conflict over losing her newfound independence, and the limitations of another marriage should she marry Drew, would have been satisfying without the mystery/robbery plot. As it was, the lighthearted fun of the first two-thirds of the story ended up overshadowed by injustice and unhappiness.

Romance is a type of fantasy for me. I want it to reassure me that people are good and things will come out ok in the end. But assholes ruining people’s lives through jealousy and spite and getting away with it scot free (pardon the pun) is not what I’ve signed up for in a romance novel, especially after the rest of the book was so fun and lighthearted. The end felt like a backhanded slap I wasn’t expecting. Which, kudos for surprising me, I guess, but again, ouch. And I can’t stress this enough: this was a legit narrative choice, and one I deeply respect in context. It just made me not like this book as much as I liked the first one in this series.

That said, A Scot to the Heart is a solid book. The house party alone makes it well worth reading. You’ll likely love these characters as much as I did. But if you’re like me, you just might not love how they suffer in the end. I’m still looking forward to the next one, though.

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