This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Omphale. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Short Historical category.
This new historical romance from May McGoldrick pits one spirited lass against her biggest challenge yet: a Highland lord who has no desire to lose his heart.
Innes Munro has the ability to “read” a person’s past simply by touching them, but her gift comes with a heavy price: her freedom. Forced to stay at desolate Castle Girnigoe, Innes never expects to be drawn to the wounded warrior who haunts its dark passages and challenges her at every turn.
Conall Sinclair, the earl of Caithness, carries the scars of battles with the English and the lash marks of their dungeons, but the wounds that fester within give him even greater pain. Isolating himself from his clan and the rest of the world in a tower perched on the wild Scottish coast, Conall is reluctant to let the spirited Innes close to him, however neither can deny the growing passion that ignites with every look, every touch.
But can Conall ever love a woman who can read his darkest secrets and feel the pain he hides… and can love really tame all fears? As dangerous forces close in, Conall and Innes must take the ultimate leap of faith and forge a bond of trust that will save them both…or lose each other forever.
Here is Omphale's review:
Taking place in a Highland setting a few years after the Rough Wooing, this is the middle story in a trilogy about young women possessed of mystical stone fragments and attendant powers. Innes Munro inherited one of these stones from her mother, and can, by the power of touch, though only with her hands, read the current thoughts and past of others.
Innes accompanies her sister Ailein to the northern Highlands to attend Ailein’s wedding to Bryce Sinclair, the Laird of the Sinclair clan. While there she hears of Connal Sinclair, the Earl of Caithness, who has ceded title of Laird to his brother following his capture by the English and presumed death. Connal is reclusive, avoiding interacting with the clan while he recovers from his battlefield wounds (he loses his dominant hand) and subsequent imprisonment and torture.
I’m not an enormous fan of paranormal elements in my historical romance (I prefer my fantasy to be that everyone had good teeth and no dysentery), but I liked the way that Innes’ power is shown to be both useful (she can tell when people are lying) and restrictive (she not only sees their thoughts and memories but feels their feelings). Connal’s suffering post-trauma displacement with his role in the clan – essentially he’s given up the day-to-day responsibilities of running the clan, but he’s still using his title in external negotiations. He’s dealing with a fair amount of survivor’s guilt, as well as getting over the loss of his hand – all of which Innes learns in their first few encounters when she meets him without her gloves. She’s used to keeping her talent a secret, but also is keenly aware of how violating it is to use it, so she’s basically consigned herself to pragmatic spinsterhood.
So neither of them really thinks they can get involved with life in general, and are trying to keep themselves separate from everyone else. Obviously then, they keep meeting and keep being thrown together by matchmaking siblings and clanspeople. But their emotional conflict makes sense, they respect each other, and they start out with mutual friendship (even though they both have pantsy thoughts). They are two cautious souls who respect each other’s right to be prickly, and I liked that they were given room to get to know each other. Their courtship is ultimately satisfying.
(BTW, there’s external conflict with an evil man chasing the stones, and we meet H+H from the first book, but that kind of just wanders in and out of the storyline until the last quarter of the book.)
So H + H make sense as a couple, mystical elements are in service to emotional conflict, love didn’t fix them, but inspired them to fix themselves, and very little series-itis. All good stuff. So why the C grade?
The structure and pacing of the book is…weird. It reads as though there were originally going to be two stories about each couple (siblings Bryce and Ailein being the other) with interweaving story lines, but then at some point that idea was dropped and only Conall and Innes’ was told. This means that there’s this throughline about the mysterious death of Bryce’s first wife, Shona, who had been betrothed to Conall before his supposed death. It’s no spoiler to say that Shona was the Evil First Wife trope, which I’m sure most of us Bitchery types hate with a fiery passion. But usually Evil First Wife exists to provide an excuse for our hero’s reluctance to commit, ye-old-standby “I trusted an evil harpy, and now I hate all women” (or, if you’re reading Mary Balogh, “I trusted an evil harpy, and now my poor heart is so crushed that love terrifies me.”)
But Shona’s horribleness appears to have no effect on Connal, and very little for Bryce- although his and Ailein’s courtship is entirely conducted in the background. And Ailein is the main investigator into her death, and Innes is just kind of along for the ride.
You see why I’m assuming there was more to the sibling-plot, right? Otherwise there’s just this kind of floppy storyline featuring an unhappy woman who died, whom nobody mourns, and whose life and death had little effect upon our main characters.
So, yeah, throw in a distractingly large subplot featuring a StrawBitch Trope, and I’m going to have dock you. In sum, there’s good stuff here, but the bad stuff outweighs my ability to recommend.