And now for a steamy romance novel… Highlander Most Wanted by Maya Banks

ImageEvery once in a while, I get a craving for a romance novel (this is me trying not to be defensive about what I read).  If I’m going to read a romance novel, what better than a good Scottish Highlander romance?  That seems to be the big thing right now – blame Diana Gabaldon, maybe, or Felicia Day.  But really, who doesn’t want to read about broad-chested, kilted Highlanders as they battle feuding clans and sweep Scottish lasses off their delicate feet?

Maya Banks’ novels look deliciously trashy and she’s very popular on Amazon, so I was happy to receive a copy of her newest book through NetGalley, even though it means coming in mid-series. Highlander Most Wanted is the second novel in the Montgomery and Armstrong series.

This novel wasn’t quite what I expected.  In fact its storyline is decidedly less trashy than most romances.  This novel tells the story of Genevieve McInnis, a woman who was kidnapped from her clan and imprisoned for a year by the McHugh clan.  The laird’s son, Ian McHugh, keeps Genevieve as his slave, forcing her into a life of destitution and humiliation.

What I liked about this book was Banks’ handling of this situation.  This isn’t sexual slavery in a Shades of Grey kind of way, and Genevieve’s situation isn’t minimized or too easily wiped away.  Our hero Bowen Montgomery doesn’t ride into town on his big steed and immediately bring Genevieve back to life.  No, Genevieve still has to suffer with the millions of reminders of her year of torment.  She still has to suffer from the scars, physical and emotional, and the disdain of the McHugh clan.  For a light read, this actually wasn’t a light read.

Genevieve is a great heroine, although I wish Bowen had been a little more layered.  His only flaw seems to be his lifetime of casual sex with hordes of willing females.  He’s sensitive and caring at all the right moments but Banks could have given him more personality by making him a whole lot less perfect.

I like to compare modern day historical romances with the ones I grew up on in the 80s, namely those of Kathleen Woodiwiss (Shanna, The Wolf and the Dove, Ashes in the Wind).  Novels of the 70s and 80s followed a lot of conventions: the heroine never has sex with anyone other than the hero, despite coming perilously close to being raped or married off to someone else.  The heroine and hero, despite their love for each other, encounter numerous misunderstandings that keep them from coming together.  The heroine and hero always end up married and with child – although not always in that order.

In modern day romances, it seems the authors have gotten rid of the “misunderstanding plot.”  When a character wants to know something, they just ask.  Instead of waiting until the end to say they love each other, they just come right out and say  it.  It’s a refreshing change, but it leaves the relationship a little lacking in conflict.   Bowen and Genevieve have tons of reasons to distrust each other.  She has no idea whether he’s using her and doesn’t seem to care.  He should be worried about whether she’s manipulating him, or he should be worried that she has no idea what love is (she’s simply fallen in love with the first man who didn’t beat and rape her).  He does question her feelings a little but that doesn’t stop him from trying to get her into bed.

So the big weakness for me in this book is the lack of conflict in their relationship.  True, there’s plenty of conflict elsewhere in their lives, but even the objections raised by their families are pretty toothless.

Another interesting thing about modern day historical romances is how much more sensitive the men are.  Bowen is ridiculously sensitive; he feels bad about his lifetime of sexual conquests, completely ignores Genevieve’s scarred face and sexual history, and seems only to live to make her feel better.  Kathleen Woodiwiss’ heroes were usually bastards who took first and later came around to understanding what it means to love.  As a modern woman I guess I should prefer the sensitive guy – but really I’m looking for a middle ground.

So, yes, I do like a good historical romance from time to time, even though I usually don’t write about them.  I know this post won’t get many comments as most people don’t read this stuff (or don’t admit to).  If you do, please share!  Favorite romance writer?  Favorite hero or heroine? What makes a good romance novel?

Note: I received an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

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