Highland Rebel is the first book I’ve read by Judith James, who is a fellow member of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. For the past few months I’ve been reading very little as I focused on finishing Heart, but I dove into Judith’s story on the weekend and returned feeling as if I’d been time-traveling.
Set in turbulent 17th-century England and Scotland, Highland Rebel tells the story of Jamie Sinclair, the unwanted bastard son of an English nobleman, and Catherine (Cat) Drummond, daughter of a Scottish clan chieftain, a woman who is used to taking her place among men, even in war. Jamie rescues Cat when she is captured in battle and marries her to save her life, but the marriage is highly inconvenient, not to say disastrous, for both.
Jamie needs to marry a woman with wealth and the right connections to escape from the mountain of debts left him by his father. Cat feels a strong responsibility to her people, and her relatives are furious over her marriage to an enemy. They want Jamie dead. Eventually the unlikely newlyweds strike a bargain: To serve both their ends they will appear as a happily married couple for a time, then get a divorce. Only, as time goes on, parting becomes less and less attractive as an option.
Cat Drummond is one of the most original heroines I’ve ever come across in romantic literature. She is strong, even fierce, without being shrill or strident. She smuggles Jamie away and nurses him back to health after he’s beaten within an inch of his life by her family, but she doesn’t hesitate to have him knocked on the head, bound and shipped back to London once he’s well enough. Cat is nobody’s fool. Her reaction to London and the English court, with its vicious gossip, adultery and political intrigue, really shows her character. Disguised as a boy, she follows Jamie into the intellectually vibrant coffee shops of the city and finds them exhilarating. Jamie is a complex character as well, and his relationship with Cat progresses from hostility to a complicated friendship to love in a completely realistic manner.
This book drew me in with its wealth of historical detail, fast-paced plot and the emotional and sexual tension between Jamie and Cat. I’d recommend it to any reader who likes meaty, detailed historical romance.