Monday, January 16, 2012
New Review: Connie Brockway’s McClairen’s Isle Scottish Trilogy
These three were my first by Connie Brockway. They form her McClairen's Isle trilogy (THE PASSIONATE ONE, 1999; THE RECKLESS ONE, 2000, and THE RAVISHING ONE, 2001). The trilogy is a clear winner, an enduring Scottish historical, and one for the “keeper” shelf. I’m reviewing all three today. I recommend you read this trilogy in order as the books are interrelated and one story follows the other
Important backstory for the trilogy:
The books tell the story of a family of two brothers and a sister, Scottish by their mother Janet McClairen, and English by their father, the charming, selfish, ruthless Ronald Merrick, now earl of Carr. Many years ago, Merrick fled his debtors in London to come to McClairen’s Isle in the Highlands with an aim to take it from the McClairen clan. He came to woo the clan but ended up winning and wedding the daughter, Janet. She gave him two sons and a daughter and then mysteriously died falling off a cliff. Later, through treachery, Merrick gained McClairen’s Isle from the English after betraying the Scottish to help the English at Culloden. His wife’s relatives wanted revenge and went after him. Instead they captured his sons. The Scots didn’t want to kill the sons (they were half Scottish) so they were sent off to prison in France. Ash was later freed when his father paid the ransom but Raine was left there to rot. Ash lives to free his brother, having promised his mother on the day she died to protect Raine. Merrick never had much time for his half Scottish sons though he dotes on his daughter, Fia. Now, years later, Merrick, Lord Carr has run through several rich Scottish wives, each one dying young. His one dream is to return to London in glory.
1. THE PASSIONATE ONE
In 1760, Ash is summoned by his father for an errand: to fetch to Scotland his ward, Rhiannon Russell, from England where she’s been living for the last 10 years. While Ash loathes his father, he is willing to undertake the task for the money it will bring, money that will buy Raine’s freedom. Rhiannon is haunted by nightmares of having been hunted as a young girl by the Butcher of Culloden, Lord Cumberland, and his dragoons, and has no desire to leave her place of refuge at Fair Badden. She is betrothed to wed a handsome Englishman, and while neither is in love, it is a good marriage for Rhiannon and will provide a continued safe haven. And then comes Ash who stirs her passion…
Brockway writes well; her words, phrases and dialog capture the time period. She has wonderful analogies and tag lines that put you in the moment (“It had been waiting for her return for a decade, like a witch’s unwanted familiar.”). Her language is wonderfully descriptive so that you see each shadow cast by the moonlight and hear each cricket (“The winnowing wind whispered a spurious greeting and the chill mist stretched milky fingers up to brush her legs in mock obeisance.”).
It is a well-woven plot, the story is believable and the passion and conflict between the hero and heroine convincing. The hero is one of those darkly handsome men, noble in heart, who has become jaded by life’s experiences (“…his eyes were dark, his wrists scarred, and his soul as tattered and patched as a gypsy’s cape…”). He never looked for nor expected to find love. Rhiannon is hiding from a past that frightens her and still has nightmares of being chased by Lord Cumberland’s dragoons. She wants only peace—like an opiate. But Ash does not bring peace. Instead, he brings a passion neither wants to acknowledge.
2. THE RECKLESS ONE
This second installment begins in 1760 (same as book #1), and tells the story of Ash’s younger brother, Raine, who has been in prison in France for 4 years. His father the evil Lord Carr won’t ransom him because he looks like his mother who Carr loved—and rumor has it—killed. Raine escapes from prison through the assistance of a young woman who uses him expecting he’ll be recaptured. But he isn’t. Raine plans to return to McClairen’s Isle and find his mother’s jewels and start a new life. He has no plans to confront or even see his father. When he arrives at the castle, whom should he find among the 100 or so guests but the young woman from his time in France? Favor McClairen has disguised her red hair by dying it black. Her plan, and that of her clan’s is to regain McClairen’s Isle by her marrying Lord Carr and then, when he meets his end, she’ll inherit (in Scotland, a woman can inherit land). She claims to be Favor Donne, Tom Donne’s sister (both she and Tom are actually McClairens). Raine recognizes Favor for who she really is—the girl who saved his life 4 years ago. He is honor bound to do whatever he can to help her. Both are hiding secrets. Both are in disguise (he tells her his name is Rafe).
Like the first, this one has an intriguing plot, the story is believable and the passion and conflict between the hero and heroine convincing. Brockway continues to provide a well written story with lines that put you in the moment (“The clock struck the witching hour but the revelry wound tighter, like a watch in the hands of a feckless, spoiled child.”). Her language is amazingly descriptive (what I wouldn’t give to be that good with adjectives!). For example: “Raine’s gaze traveled through the crowd until he found Favor. Yards of vibrant jonquil yellow swathed her upright figure, the light-killing blackness of her dyed hair as coal dust against her white bosom.”
Like his brother, Ash, Raine Merrick is a dark-haired, handsome hunk though he bears a few more scars. Favor is unusual but very attractive in appearance with her black brows and red hair. She has a kind heart but knows she has a debt to pay as her clan holds her responsible for many deaths when she saved the Englishman. So she is forced to play the role that will hopefully restore the castle to her clan.
3. THE RAVISHING ONE
At 15, Fia fell in love with Tom Donne, a Scot who had attached himself to McClairen’s Isle, no one aware he was the heir, a McClairen, and a former Jacobite. Tom spurned both Fia and her family, calling them evil. It was a revelation to Fia, but she took it seriously and it changed her view of her father and her life. Fia became a seductress while having no man. She developed a plan to become independent of her father and later, goes to London at the invitation of some friends for her first Season. Without her father knowing, she eloped with an old, wealthy Scot thinking when he died, she’d inherit. But her husband failed to tell her he had two children—heirs. When her old husband dies, she continued to live at his Scottish home, Bramble House, until the day her father showed up and told her he owned it. Ever manipulating her, Lord Carr still intends to wed her to the highest bidder. But Fia will thwart that plan by spreading rumors she is a jezebel. Then Tom Donne comes to London. He loathes Fia and what her family has done to so many and, to remove her influence form his best friend, he decides to abduct her and take her to McClairen’s Isle, which he now owns and is rebuilding.
You have to feel for poor Fia. She has been played by so many for so long. Inside, she is a girl with a compassionate heart and great passion, as Tom will discover.
It is a well-woven plot, the story is believable and the passion and conflict between the hero and heroine convincing. Once they go to Scotland, both Tom and Fia change. She drops her mask and becomes more the innocent lass she is; he becomes tender in response. Without giving away too much, While Tom had a weakness for Fia, it was just that of a man in love.
While not as good as either the first or the second in the trilogy, I did like this one. It ties up a lot of loose ends and truly finished the story of McClairen’s Isle. We hear about Fia’s brothers and their marriages, learn of Carr’s deep perfidy, and finally, all comes right in the end.