September 15, 2014
"Ti-i-i-ime is on my side - yes it is."
My Highland Spy is the first book in Victoria Roberts' new Highland Spies series and it also happens to be the first book by Ms. Roberts that I've read. I was pleased with Ms.
Roberts' book and it won't be the last by her I will read. Now, did the book blow me away? No. It was a charming book but there seemed to be a certain lack of any depth to it.
I am always encouraged when I find a new author with promising talent. Sure this is not Ms. Roberts' first book - she has three other books under her belt - but for me she is a new author. I understand how hard it is to write a romance. One pours so much of oneself into those words - sleepless nights, doubts, sweat and then the nail biting moments when you give it to a friend to read or read it yourself and realize how much more work you have to do. I'm saying that because I do not take criticism of books lightly, although I will admit I do have an occasional sarcastic word escaping my pen. I am often disappointed in authors who I have loved for ages and seem to have lost some of their magic. On the other hand, I can appreciate young authors who are finding their way and with just a little nudge can become really good. In the case of Ms. Roberts, I believe she needs to slow down her story lines and more fully develop her characters. While the characters in this book are engaging, they could have been so much more if more detail had been given to them - this book needed more atmosphere.
Let's ponder time. Time ponder one. This story takes place in the time period of James VI of England (June 19, 1566 – March 27, 1625) but it felt as if the characters were 21st century people dressed up in costumes. Usually in historicals we are bombarded with dress/costume details and in my opinion this time period was abundant with complicated clothing which identifies it. However, I never had a sense as to what any of these people were wearing unless it was a kilt. Incorporating clothing details would have been one way of establishing some kind of feel for the time period it was set in. Or - language. While we do have some Scottish brogue and even an abundance of Gaelic, the spoken/written English in this book sounds modern, unlike the interesting cadence of 17th century English. For example, just look at this sentence from Prince Frederick to Princess Elizabeth: "I beg of you, be not distressed." There is no way that could be mistaken for 21st century language, and I still know what the meaning of that sentence is. While I would find it hard to read an entire book filled with 17th century language, there could have been a few words scattered here and there to enhance the feeling of the time period the author was going for.
Time ponder two. My Highland Spy takes place over a time period of a couple of months; however, the only reason I know this is because the author told me. If not for the occasional "time passes" inserted in the book I would not have realized that any more time than a few weeks had gone by.
Characters. Our heroine Ravenna is a spy and I'm not sure I bought into her being one. The courts of James VI and his predecessors were filled with intrigue, so one really had to be on one toes. There were numerous people who weren't and ended up on the block. Ravenna didn't use intrigue to spy - she was more of a Mati Hari kind of spy (and Mati Hari was not all that good at the spy business). Lurking behind a pillar doesn't mean good spying. So, she is sent to Scotland to "spy" on our hero Ruairi Sutherland and teach his son how to speak English. That's her disguise - teaching. It doesn't take long before Ravenna and Ruairi are in lust and kilts are flying by the wayside. But Ruairi has problems of his own, someone’s killing his cows. He confides his troubles to Ravenna then finds out she's a spy - oh, will they ever have there happy ending? There are some secondary characters running around in kilts being manly men. One in particular, Fagan, is slugged in the face by Ravenna's sister, Grace - their book is next, should be great fun and I'm looking forward to their story.
I do not want to put any pressure on Ms. Roberts, but I am going to keep an eye on her and see to what heights she takes her writing. Overall, this was a pleasant read. Even though it's a "spy" story, there isn't too much distrust angst that last very long. If I had been able to feel the time period that this story takes place in, it would have taken this book to a whole other level. Just a little tweak here and there would have made all the difference. It would have made a simply charming story into a great story. However, I am interested in this series and I will be picking up the next book to see where Ms. Roberts takes me.
Time/Place: 17th century England and Scotland