Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

On the surface, this seems to be your typical historical romance, with the arguably gimmicky catch of a hero who is "mad". In fact, Ian suffers from Asperger's, which can best be described as very high functioning autism. I'll be honest, that's what made me buy this book in the first place. For some reason it seems that mental disorders are fairly taboo in the romance with, with the obvious exceptions of PTSD and depression. You'll probably never find a hero or heroine with schizophrenia or bipolar or crippling OCD--hard to make those things both realistic and sexy, I guess. So yeah, even comparatively minor, increasingly common things like Asperger's are underrepresented in the romance world. How does this author pull it off? Well....

Ian seeks out Beth, a wealthy widow, because she's engaged to his rival and he wants to warn her off him. He quickly becomes obsessed with having her, and she is fascinated by him. Their growing relationship is soon threatened by a detective who hates the Mackenzie family, and is determined to pin murder on Ian.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #1)
There are some instances where I thought the author absolutely nailed Ian--his quirks, his personality, his intensity, and even the symptoms of his disorder make him come out of the page. He's unreasonably intelligent, but obsesses over inanimate objects (Ming bowls). He's an intense lover, but he has trouble connecting to anyone emotionally. He understands high finance without trying, but misses subtle nuance in conversation and doesn't get Beth's jokes. The author clearly has an understanding of what Ian's disorder means, and how he might reasonably be expected to adjust to the challenges of life (or not).

Here's the thing though: despite this excellent set-up, the execution is sloppy as hell. Beth and Ian connect with an ease that belies his carefully explained disorder. Ian, who is perhaps overly self aware, explains that he cannot love, he does not know how to connect with people, and so forth. But then he connects with Beth and starts to love her simply because she's there, being non-judgmental and having excellent sex with him.  For her part, Beth is just a bit too understanding for a person in a time period when no one had any understanding of Ian's disorder. She never once thinks that perhaps he's just cold, just anti-social, just doesn't like her. She shrugs it all off, and it's not long before he's confessing his love to her. The transition between point A (first meeting) and point B (we're in love!) just wasn't there for me.

As for the murder mystery, it just hampered my enjoyment all the more. I almost never get invested in murder mysteries, and this one is delivered in a sort of off-handed manner that did nothing to increase the tension.

On a positive note, I did genuinely like all the characters. Not only are Ian and Beth oddly charming, but Ian's entire family is intriguing. His brothers are a rugged alphas that don't give a fuck, and aren't too concerned with fitting into society. But they have a ton of money, and they each have their particular talents. If there's a question as to whether I'd read more of the series, the answer is yes, I believe I would.

While I wished this book had focused more on emotional development and logical transitions in a romantic relationships, and while I wholeheartedly wish the mystery had been left out altogether, I did enjoy many aspects of it. The author has a nice style, and the characters are appealingly quirky. 3.5 stars.

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