Pros: Great character chemistry; wonderful humor; intriguing plot
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I admit, when I realized I had another time-travel Scottish romance in my hands, I thought, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ I’ve already read Kurland’s With Every Breath and Wolff’s Sword of the Highlands, and I couldn’t help wondering just how much you could do with such a narrow niche and still feel original and interesting.
Well, Tess Mallory’s Highland Rogue is one of those books that proves you can’t judge a book by its concept—or its peers. After enjoying Kurland’s book reasonably well and finding Wolff’s rather bland, I just loved Mallory’s take on the tale.
Maggie has always wanted to be an archaeologist, and she’s always wanted to visit Scotland. She put both dreams on hold when her parents died and she was forced to raise her twin sisters. Now they’re grown, and they and Maggie’s best friend have a birthday present for Maggie—a trip to an archaeological dig at a cairn in Scotland.
The trip isn’t quite what Maggie or her loved ones expected; it’s little more than a con designed to make tourists feel like they’re getting a ‘real’ archaeological experience. But for once Maggie’s doing something for herself, and she’s determined to enjoy it. Then she and Alex, the ‘archaeologist’ running the dig, uncover an amazing discovery: a mysterious tri-spiral carving inside the cairn. When Maggie accidentally activates the power inside the carving, she’s sent back in time to 1711, where she runs right into the path of a highwayman’s horse.
Quinn is hell-bent on revenge against the brutish Duke of Montrose, and his best friend Ian rides with him. When Quinn saves a mysterious woman from being ridden down by Ian’s horse, Ian is shot by the Duke’s men and presumed dead. Quinn blames both the woman and himself, until finally he realizes that Ian might still be alive, and that he’ll need Maggie’s help to find out for sure. Complicating matters, naturally, is their intense attraction to each other and the all-too-dangerous nature of what they’re trying to do.
There are only a couple of tiny smudges on what is otherwise a gorgeous book, so naturally I’ll get them out of the way quickly. There are some moments toward the beginning of Maggie’s stay in the past when you do notice dribs and drabs of ‘formula’ as such, but Mallory breaks free of them quite quickly. It is absolutely worth reading through another hapless person coming to grips with having time-traveled back to the past in order to move on and read the rest. (To be fair to Ms. Mallory, she’s at a disadvantage here. You can’t really have the character adjust to such a thing over the course of a paragraph, yet since this seems to be its own mini-genre readers may get tired of reading that inevitable adjustment over and over and over again.)
Maggie’s neither a fearless heroine nor a shrinking violet; she’s beautifully real instead. She does her best to fit into her new time period, but things like her Hello Kitty pajamas and her tendency to say ‘okay’ a lot trip her up. When Quinn gets angry at her she’s more likely to snark right back at him than fall to pieces, even though half the time he doesn’t understand her references.
There are several things that made this one stand out over its peers for me. First, Quinn and Maggie have fantastic chemistry. They drive each other nuts in ways that are great fun, and they have utterly smokin’ sex scenes (yes, usual adult material warning: explicit sex, nothing weird).
Second, the plot is wonderful. There’s plenty of tension as Maggie tries to keep the shackled and gravely injured Ian alive, elude the all-too-dangerous roaming eyes and hands of the captain of the guard, protect her new friend Jenny from the same, help Quinn rescue Ian, and somehow keep Quinn from getting himself killed. It’s a tall order, and one that involves plenty of fun developments.
Finally, Mallory’s writing sings with good humor. Maggie is snarky; Maggie’s sisters and friend are the worst kind of practical jokers (the Hello Kitty pajamas are their fault); and there’s some great fun made of the stereotypical narcissistic hunk:
He slid his eyes half closed, and as if on command, they began to smolder. Maggie gazed into them, amazed that someone could actually do that in real life. Maybe she could get him to teach her how. It might come in handy if she ever found someone she actually wanted to turn on. However, since Alex’s burning gaze was doing nothing for her, maybe he shouldn’t be giving lessons.
And yet, the humor doesn’t become an excuse for blanket stereotyping; Alex has a little of his own depth to him.
In fact, I’d better quell the urge to quote here, or I’ll be at it all morning, as my husband can attest (I kept reading bits aloud to him last night).
So if you enjoy this weird sub-sub-genre that is Scottish Highland time-travel romance, I can definitely recommend Tess Mallory’s Highland Rogue. For a book with such a generic title, its contents are anything but.