Sometimes when I read a historical romance (especially a Regency), I have to remember that some of these books are not based on reality.* In this alternate reality for regencies, there can be some notable suspension of disbelief (e.g., maids and governesses marry dukes, women are crimelords, earl’s sisters run off to join Scottish bandits). I really enjoyed Claiming the Highlander's Heart, it was the warm and fuzzy I needed, but it does demand you accept extreme behavior from a character you barely know in the first few pages, and that’s pretty much my only complaint.
The book begins with Georgina Stewart discovering that her cherished music box given to her by her mother has been stolen. Her response is to run off and join the band of thieves who stole it in an attempt to get it back. Georgina and the group’s leader, Malcolm Stewart, sort of fall in lust immediately, but everything is complicated because she knows she is lying to him and will leave. And I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t a little off the rails, but once I hung up my disbelief, Claiming the Highlander's Heart totally charmed me.
The strength of the book is that it cares about its characters. No one feels like a caricature. And the characters genuinely care about each other, even when hurt and confused by each other’s actions. The angst is mild to moderate (on my highly scientific angst scale** of Tessa Dare [almost no angst] to Sherry Thomas [so much angst], I’d say Claiming the Highlander's Heart is at low level Courtney Milan angst [The Countess Conspiracy levels]), but genuine so we trust in Georgina and Mal as they work towards understanding.
When it comes to m/f romances, I read for the heroines. I want them to learn and grow and be their best and get what they want. I need them to be real and complicated and maybe difficult. And most of all, I need the heroines to be the main characters in their stories, not only a supporting role for the hero’s journey. Georgina is all of these things. She’s willful, flawed, kind, and a challenge. Georgina lives for adventure and does what she wants. And Mal is a fitting hero for her in that he is more kind than willful, so they balance each other.
Mal spends the book trying to find a sense of justice for what has happened to the highlanders and his family at the hands of lords in Scotland, so he unwittingly falls in love with an earl’s sister. But Georgina and her family refuse to accept what is standard as acceptable. They are an unconventional and loving family, helping their tenants and opening a school for the children, which allows Mal to find a new family (in addition to his merry group of bandits) and help the highlanders he so desperately wants more for.
One interesting thing is the sex scene. I don’t quite know how to discuss it, but it is a difficult sex scene, both for bad and good sex. Because I was reading a romance, I feared slightly the appearance of a magic peen, but that didn’t happen and yet, Mal sort of has a magic peen. Or really, Mal is the magic. He’s so in love with Georgina and wants to give her everything, and he does in a completely unexpected way. (Read the book, and then let’s discuss.)
Claiming the Highlander's Heart ended up being the sort of distracting and delightful book I needed, and I really need to invest in Maxton’s backlist.
*We can have a long discussion (or possibly a very short one) on how Regency romances written now are more likely to use Regency romances written before it, and especially Georgette Heyer’s books, as historical sources. They aren’t good sources. Heyer made stuff up. Heyer was a racist. This is a footnote because it’s totally a tangent that I get fiery over and unrelated to this book.
**Here’s my historical romance angst scale for reference (based solely on books I’ve read, so not necessarily exact and completely subjective):