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Girl in the Castle: fall in love with a Highlander Kindle Edition
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel. See more
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After a show of justified outrage with unfortunate consequences, Doctor Henriette Bruar with the help of Professor Maddie Hallam, has secured a job cataloguing the library at Castle Tèarmannair. She is hopeful of finding some valuable books; to secure funds for restoration of the castle and, hopefully, in the process also help her career. Her position as an academic and possibly furthering that position at St Guthlac’s is now in jeopardy and time away, giving Henri chance to try and repair the damage, is just what she needs.
Employed by Sir Malcolm MacKenzie, and assumed to be the latest in a long line of the flighty young women Sir Malcolm is attracted to, Henri gets a less than welcoming reception from the castle staff, Alice and Lachlan. However, the estate is all but insolvent and so, against his better judgement, Keir MacKenzie, Sir Malcolm’s son and heir, agrees to Henri’s inventory.
Sir Malcolm and Keir have been estranged for years, in the wake of a tragedy when Keir was a young boy, which haunts them both. Sir Malcolm’s complete lack of money management hasn’t helped their relationship.
Lizzie Lamb’s descriptions of the Scottish Highlands and the castle on the loch are vivid and atmospheric. That, together with the history, authentic dialect, occasional Gaelic and well fleshed out characters of Henri and Keir, creates a wonderfully evocative read. The dialogue is realistic and, as always, the characters are distinctive and strong with back stories that develop with the storyline. Secondary characters are just as enjoyable; lovely Aunt Alice, the chatelaine, who soon realises she was wrong about Henri, and irascible Lachlan, Sir Malcolm’s ‘man.’
Castle Tèarmannair is a character in its own right and who doesn’t love a romantic castle on a loch, not to mention a dark, brooding, Gaelic speaking Scotsman in a kilt. The romance between Keir and Henri is a slow burner which works well within the framework of the story. Both grow and develop as, initially they tolerate each other, then as time passes their relationship evolves. Great characterisations, romance, humour and a hunt for Jacobite treasure all combine to make a very enjoyable read. This book arrived just as I was ready for a change of pace, I enjoyed my visit to the Scottish Highlands very much.
But as the decaying books fail to yield the treasures that might save either the MacKenzie clan or her academic career, Henri finds herself in unwilling conflict with almost everyone around her, from Sir Malcolm to his staff, local residents, and especially the Laird’s estranged son and heir, Keir MacKenzie. Heir to a bankrupt estate, Keir unwillingly accepts Henri’s presence to catalog and dismantle the remainder of their once-prosperous castle. Meanwhile Henri is an unwilling observer as she watches an old tragedy continue to destroy the lives of everyone around her, while she herself keeps hearing the warning sounds of a ghostly piper.
Adding up the de rigueur gothic romance tropes—remote castle, handsome heir, beautiful young employee, jealous romantic rival, wealthy suitor, and that phantom piper—and you have all the tropes of a standard romance. But tropes exist because they work. In the hands of a talented writer like Lizzie Lamb, they aren’t cliches as much as they are building blocks, which she makes uniquely her own. For example, Henri doesn’t insist that she has no idea what men see in her with her long legs, thick blonde hair, and green eyes. Instead, she dryly cataloges the men who only see that far and miss her driving ambition. “Their second sweep often missed the stubborn line of her mouth, the determined set to her shoulders and her death stare that warned—don’t come too close, if you value your head.”
The plot-killing love triangle never emerges because Henri is correctly suspicious of the motives of her “admirer”. And most of all, the characters are allowed to develop and grow over the course of the book. When we meet them, both Henri and Keir are damaged and flawed, each trailing chains of distrust and past tragedy. Author Lizzie Lamb lets us see their pain, suspicion, and fear of giving anyone the power to inflict more hurt. I especially enjoyed Henri’s steel core of confidence in her own professional training and expertise, as well as her determination to recover her academic reputation.
I’ve always enjoyed Lizzie Lamb’s books, and especially (now that I live here myself!) those set in Scotland. She has a unique gift for creating settings and dialog that capture Scottish color, language, humor, and beauty, while realistically including the cold, the rain, and the chill of an ancient castle on a remote island. As someone who has not only lived in Scotland, but also in a medieval castle, I think she’s absolutely nailed that one. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time surrounded by academics, especially at English and Scottish institutions, and I have to say that there are a few things that don’t seem quite so authentic there. My experience of castle ghosts makes the spectral piper seem quite a bit more likely than the English university.
Overall, though, Lizzie Lamb weaves a terrific romance with all the trimmings. If you enjoy watching two flawed characters struggle through their emotional baggage while surrounded by the cadences of Scottish speech and the beauty of the Highlands—not to mention whisky, kilts, and bagpipes—I think you’ll enjoy Girl in the Castle as much as I did.
*I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
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