Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Highland Wife

The Highland Wife by  Lyn Stone. ****
A romance novel set in Medieval Scotland, the hero is deaf. Robert MacBain travels to the Highlands for an arranged marriage with Mairi MacInness. He thinks that as part of the negotiations, she has been told about his deafness, but she hasn't, then they are attacked and one calamity follows another and he can't find a good way to tell her. The plot revolves around him trying to find a way to tell her, and her trying to figure him out. The whole miscommunication plot threatens to get frustrating, but I found the arranged marriage plotline both more realistic and more interesting than the average romance. The question isn't will they ever get married (they already are), but will they learn to understand each other. What sets this one apart is that unlike every other "wounded hero" romance, Robert is not some aloof, cold-hearted asshole--he's really sweet and generous. And Mairi is not some sheltered bimbo, she actually shows some intelligence. Also the story is not entirely from Mairi's point of view; about half the narration is from Robert's POV, and we find out a lot about how he lost his hearing as a small child, and how his mother invented a sign language and taught him to speak and lip-read. The descriptions of his deafness are very realistic; the author indicates in the dedication that her son is deaf, which explains the realism. Devo Girl highly recommends this one, very high dev factor.

The Bride of Trouville by Lyn Stone **
The prequel, of sorts, to The Highland Wife, taking place when Rob is a child. Rob’s widowed mother, Anne, is forced to marry the French Comte de Trouville. She resists him, not only because she has been traumatized by her abusive first husband, but because she is afraid that if Trouville discovers Rob is deaf, he will be disinherited. So she tries to hide Rob’s deafness from him. Unlike most “big misunderstanding” plots, this is a legitimate fear: Trouville really does not intend to allow Rob to inherit the estate, and it’s up to Anne to prove to him that her son could be a competent lord. The descriptions of Anne raising Rob and teaching him to speak and use a made-up sign language are compelling, and clearly based on the author’s own experiences. Even though the devo factor is low, the writing is engaging, and the characters are interesting.

The Quest by Lyn Stone *
A sequel to The Highland Wife, although as in most romances, the focus is on a different couple. Rob’s stepbrother, Henri de Trouville, returns to Scotland from a disastrous campaign in France. On his way to Rob’s estate, he meets up with Iana Duncan, a young widow fleeing a forced second marriage. The two seek shelter with Rob, and most of the action takes place at his estate, but he’s barely a secondary character. This one is not nearly as good as the other two. Henri and Iana are potentially interesting characters, but the writing falls down in the second half. Even worse, Rob is reduced a cartoony parody of himself, relegated to little more than a human lie-detector. Disappointing.

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