In my quest to decipher just what inspires a seven-figure advance to a romance novelist, I tucked into a different series by Maya Banks. In Bed with a Highlander was definitely a better story than the quasi-military pandering and weird paranormal oddities in the last Banks book I read. This one has a classic story of gruff lord of the keep–laird in this case as we are in Scotland–falling under the spell of the obstinate and spunky young woman who enters his protection unwillingly but eventually romps with great enthusiasm in his bed. Plots of regicide, internal perfidy, threats and violence abound. The characters were as unstable as romance characters usually are–tough and then unaccountably shy and then tough again, no real substance to them. But attractive, volatile, highly-sexed, multi-orgasmic and beset by battles at every turn.
The oddest thing is the way these books are slapped together and marketed, as if the story there is exists only to fill the pages with predictable dangers and sex–and then more danger and more sex, punctuated by startling moments of personal enlightenment in which the main players admit that they love each other. It’s a convention of the genre; it’s fine. But the cover! The cover of In Bed… was truly weird. A battle-scarred Scottish laird, muscled and shaggy, is depicted as a hairless, shirtless bodybuilder from Venice, California wearing a pair of shorts. The heroine, a Scottish bastard with green eyes, Celtic curling hair and clothes of the period is a sinuous Asian vamp with long dark hair and a sort of blue teddy-like thing that has just a little too much fabric in it to be from Victoria’s Secret. Does this indicate that the publisher believes the intended audience for a Scottish period romance is too stupid to require more than half-naked bodies in a clinch set against a backdrop of green tartan? Tacky.
I’m getting this genre a bit now. I’ll probably need a few more books to suss out why it is so appealing as a storyline to so many people. Romance sells like hotcakes–hot romance like hotcakes with real maple syrup. Is it Cinderella for grown-ups, or Sleeping Beauty maybe? I’m puzzled at the flattened-out nature of it but that might just be because I’m not reading more complex, nuanced versions of the basic plot. Murder mysteries are more satisfying, in general, although the badly written ones are as bad as anything unreadable, whatever the genre. So, no more contemporary military types with their bulging jeans and Wal-Mart spectrum of emotions. I might hunt for historical romantica so there is at least some marginal world-building to examine in between the sighs, moans, poisoned goblets of ale and clashing of bloody swords.
In Bed with a Highlander (McCabe Trilogy) Maya Banks | Ballantine Books 2011