Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Title: The Madness Of Lord Ian Mackenzie
Author: Jennifer Ashley

Type: Historical Romance
Series: Highland Pleasures, Book One
Published: 2009

Blurb: The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.

The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.

Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.

And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.

Why: Jennifer Ashley hit my radar as Ashley Gardner couple years back. After her Captain Lacey mysteries (written as Gardner), I'm happily sampling her 'other' genres and names (of which there are a few). I also recall a strong blogger buzz for this particular title (thinking it was positive overall).

Thoughts: A bit disappointing. I enjoy Ashley's words--she is a fine writer. She also bucks the expected, which I appreciated as well. But not all of her characters leave the page. Given that Captain Lacey still walks and talks for me, I was disappointed. In the end, there were just too many characters vying for my attention and, worse yet, the heroine failed to embody or command the role--it was as if she just showed up having memorized her poorly assembled lines and cues.

On the premise. Without the benefit of having read Ashley before, I would have passed on this premise. I'm more of the big, strong hero in charge ilk. The blurb and blogger buzz suggested that this was a hero in need of saving, protecting. So I went in prepared not to love him.

On this, Ashley won me over instantly. When Ian appeared at the opera, I was as taken as Beth. Virile doesn't begin to describe him. Ashley gives him a physical presence and sex drive that obliterate any hint of weakness in him. Like Beth, I didn't care how his mind did or did not work at this point. From here, Ashley went further, drawing him to life with a singular intensity, one unencumbered by societal concerns or drama. He had the right idea.

It is here that I expected a heroine equally unencumbered. Given her background, I expected both resilience and a maturity that speaks to perspective. For Ian, I wanted a woman who could stand apart from society, not be taken in by its frivolities. Instead, Ashley presents Beth, right from the start, as embarrassingly naive. She is engaged to a man Ashley paints as transparently perverse and untrustworthy (so why didn't Beth know this?). When she learns otherwise, she breaks the engagement and packs off to Paris to take up drawing. There, she meets Isabella on the street and moves in with her. This just after she meets Mac (Ian's brother) and agrees to drawing lessons. Ok. When she encounters Ian again, she propositions him. Then happily goes about their game of seduction, breathless with the excitement of it. One night, she eagerly goes for some illegal gambling fun before holing up with Ian to consummate their attraction. After which she takes all of a minute to agree to marry him on the spot, thus thwarting the evil inspector's plan to arrest Ian. I didn't buy any of these moments, hence my sarcasm.

The fiance was far too deviant I think, to be believable as her fiance (not if we're expected to see Beth as intelligent). As for Beth and Isabella, they were unacquainted, had little in common and shared no history. Yet Ashley gave them all the makings of a lifelong friendship. As Ian's brother, I expected Mac to be more protective of him, more interested in what Beth might be to him. Instead, Mac seems to hold a far shorter attention span than even Ian. He is another who plays his role without actually filling it. Aside from baiting her next book, I'm not sure why Mac (and Isabella) were in here. Finally, Inspector Fellows is appropriately slimy and obsessed, but ultimately powerless. That Ashley would have us believe otherwise was silly.

Instead of fitting together, all of these pieces distracted from the story of Ian and Beth. None contributed to foundation. None served to explain. They all felt like props, cluttering up the set. Overall, I had the sense that Ashley couldn't make up her mind. In some instances, her characters--Beth in particular--behaved as society would dictate. In other instances, her characters (again, Beth) threw off societal rules. I guess I could say this held true for every character but Ian. The result was not a solid, planned set of choices that led readers to the book's end. There was just too much and it all fell together in a flimsy, jumbled telling of a great story.

I read on, but was never able to shake the annoyance. Largely because Ashley continued to offer Beth more opportunities to prove herself an immature busybody. In short, when she wasn't with Ian, she was acting the fool. Looking back, had Ashley honed in on Ian and Beth, this would have been my perfect dark and witty read. Their connection was both physical and emotional and required none of the extras, save the murder mystery.

So will I read the next in this series? Honestly don't know. On the one hand, Ashley writes to my taste--dialogue instead of rambling internal thought, humor, and more. On the other hand, at least in this series, she failed to wholly engage--her fault for throwing me out of the story so often. So I'm not sure.


  1. There definitively were some problems with this book, but overall, I enjoyed it, mostly for Ian :D and I do plan on reading the next one, but I see your point about their purposes in this book.

  2. Nath - I struggled with the possibility that I judged this one more harshly than I would have if I had NOT read Goodman's The Price Of Desire right before it. Goodman follows every single detail to its end, Ashley doesn't. Not necessarily a book killer I know. Maybe I would have liked it more had I read it some other time.

    Admittedly...despite the complaints about sequel baiting, I have to say she did a fine job of it, LOL. I am very seriously tempted.

  3. I think I might have liked this much better had not everyone built it up as this fabulous portrayal of Asperger's Syndrome. Because my hub works with people w/ it in his role as psychologist and teacher of those with emotional disturbance, and although Ian obviously had some sort of antisocial disorder, and some pieces fit with Asperger's, others did not. I kept stopping and asking "Is this typical?" And he kept saying, "Not in my experience." Which, I might add, it pretty vast.

    It was too inconsistent for me. So had Ian not been labeled by all the reviewers, I might have enjoyed it more.

    And I also had issues with Beth. Agree completely that she was too naive.

  4. Another hole for me Lori. I recalled mention of that as well, then subconsciously looked for it in the book. Not something Ashley left out necessarily, but another gap for me as the reader.

  5. I do believe this may be the first less than stellar review for this novel that I've read. I've had it on my TBR for a while and was actually hoping to read it this month for a book discussion on Aymless' blog. Of course, I'm hoping that I'll love it, but I think your review will help me go into the book with neutral expectations now. Thanks. :)

  6. Hi Christine! To help...sort of, LOL...I'll tell you that Ian's band of brothers are quite enticing and despite my reservations about this one, Ashley really, really tempted me with the rest of this series. So an expectation to find fun--in a Scottish-hero-about-London way. :-)

  7. Nod nod, I agree with Lori. If only Ian has not been labeled with the syndrome, it would have been better. I mean, he can be socially inept right, without it being Asperger syndrome.

    I liked the characters well enough. The biggest weakness of this book in my opinion was the suspense ^_^; That was bad.

    And Jennifer, that happens... reading a wonderful book followed by an okay book... That's life. It's okay if it affected you.


Have you read it? What do you think?

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