Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press/Swerve, for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
I love fairy tales. Although probably Beauty and the Beast is my favourite, I have a soft spot for most classics. I also love the Scottish Highlands (I’ve visited two or three times but I hope I will visit again in the future). When I saw this book, which combined a retelling of Cinderella with a setting in the Highlands, I could not resist (I also liked the cover).
This is book 4 in A Highland Fairytale series, but it can be read as a standalone (I haven’t read any of the other books in the series). The story is told in the third person from different characters points of view, but there is no head-hopping and the changes in perspective are clearly marked. The novel is set in the XVII century and tells the story of is Gillian, a young girl daughter of Donal, the laird of the MacLeod’s clan, quiet and shy, whose father and sisters think will never get married (although she is very pretty but too quiet to make herself noticed). Quiet waters and all that, because Gillian has dreams and wants to marry for love. While visiting one of the sisters, she meets an Englishman who is Captain of her brother-in-law’s men, John Erly, and although he has no fortune to his name and a terrible reputation, she discovers there is more to him than people think and falls in love with him. At a masquerade ball, they kiss (he is not wearing much of a disguise but he does not know who she is) and she loses her mask. Despite the effect she has on him, nothing happens and she goes back home. A few months later she is engaged to get married to an old nobleman (older than her father) as her family is convinced she wants a quiet life and an old husband is just the ticket for her. Somehow, John ends up escorting her to Edinburgh with a full complement of Highlanders… And the rest, well, you’ll need to read the book to know.
I don’t want to rehash the plot or reveal any spoilers. As this is a romance and a fairy tale, you can imagine how things end up from the beginning, but the beauty is in the details. Gilliam is far from the wilting violet everybody mistakes her for, and John isn’t the rogue others think either. They go through many adventures, including being assaulted by outlaws, a wedding that is ruined, numerous suitors, fights and perils, a competition to obtain Gillian’s hand in marriage, secrets, confessions, and plenty of Highland traditions, expressions, songs, whisky, and a fair amount of fun (and romance). Of course, it is a fairy tale, so it does require a deal of suspension of disbelief, but both main characters are likeable, and most of the secondary characters are great too (even if we don’t get to know them as well, they provide light relief and liven up the action).
The retelling of Cinderella is limited to the mask and the ball, as the circumstances of the character are quite different (she is beloved by her family even if they don’t understand her true feelings) and what happens later bears no resemblance to the story, but is an enjoyable romp. There is plenty of action and humour, there is violence, there are also scary moments, and a couple of erotic scenes (they are quite mild but I would have enjoyed the book more without them as I’m not a big fan. Especially the first one felt particularly unrealistic, and I know I’m talking about a sex scene in a fairy tale, but for me, it did stretch credibility more than the rest of the book). The writing is in keeping with the story, easy and fairly dynamic, at times reminding me of the serials of old, like the Perils of Pauline, where there is a never-ending amount of trouble waiting for the heroine (who luckily is pretty resourceful).
A fun and light read recommended to lovers of fairy tales and Scottish-themed stories, who enjoy adventures galore and don’t mind some violence and a bit of sex.