Monday, February 11, 2019

A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz, 2019

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Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning—together.
(400 pages)

I have fairly mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's a fluffy escapist romance novel half set in Scotland, one of my favorite countries, and highlights an immigration perspective (Scottish prisoners exiled to America) that I hadn't yet had the pleasure to explore.

But then on the other hand it's quite cheesy, and character actions are fairly unrealistic and/or overly convenient to the plot at times. Plus the descriptions of Scotland are beautiful but don't really ring true to my own experiences living in a small Scottish town (though I'm sure a university town would have different vibes from an island). And–most painfully to read–Magnus falls into a fairly awful "white savior" role as the manager of a slave plantation.

Obviously all of these crimes are not equal. I list them more in the order of occurrence, because I became more and more frustrated with the story as it progressed. By the time Magnus was getting the slave plantation in order, I wasn't invested enough to be as horrified as I otherwise would have been.

I hate to sound so negative, because I actually did pass a few peaceful hours reading the book. I was rooting for the main characters to get together already, and I genuinely liked the new angle on the familiar immigration story that Frantz took, even if she didn't stick the landing every single time. I also really loved a later storyline where Lark sort of adopts an orphaned baby on the ship over, because it's a super sweet (if ocasionally over-milked) storyline.

But, setting aside the gasp-inducing slave plantation storyline which was problematic for obvious reasons, the parts that I found most disappointing were the Scottish depictions. For one thing, it was really obvious to my ear that Frantz is an American. I can't point to any wording in particular, but there's just a certain pattern of speech that was missing from the dialogue as well as the narration. I was also a bit sad to see Edinburgh so completely written off as "a big ugly city," because in my experience it's one of the nicest cities on the planet. I do realize that it was a different time and Lark is a very different person from myself, though, so I can just about let that one go.

The other major authenticity issue I have with the book has to do with alcohol. Namely, both of the main characters seem to feel like drinking might not be a very moral thing to do. Now I'm not sure exactly what time period this is supposed to be set in, and it is true that there was a fairly brief period in time when temperance had some supporters in Scotland, but Frantz did not get across just what a massive part of Scottish culture drinking really is. It's practically a national pastime around here. I seriously doubt that two random Scottish people, almost completely isolated from any society but that of a bunch of rural islanders in an alcohol-fueled society, would feel any compunction to avoid it in any way. I suspect it's more Frantz superimposing her own moral compass onto her characters, which is fine I guess but just pulls away a bit from the authenticity.

Anyway, all in all it's a pretty mixed bag. There were aspects I loved and others I . . . well, didn't, If you've read my review and still want to read it, go for it and let me know in the comments so we can compare notes. Otherwise, I think you can pretty safely skip A Bound Heart and continue on your way.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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