So my initial instinct was to read this before reading The Stolen Mackenzie Bride because this was the order in which I had bought the books back in 2015 (and now I feel really guilty because I've had The Stolen Mackenzie since September 2015 and I still haven't read it.) So I know they're out of order, but this book is the last of the Victorian Mackenzies before Jennifer Ashley published a trilogy about the Culloden Mackenzies from the 1740s. I'm going to leave my master list order the way it is.
So I recently purchased The Mackenzie Chronicles, which serves as an overview of the series. Each book has some information about the characters and plot, and also a note from Jennifer Ashley about writing the book. it turns out the title was decided upon before she wrote the story, so I'm glad I know that because I was gonna kind read her for not really doing a clan gathering. I'll set it aside because I get how publishing works and sometimes writing goes in a different direction.
This is relatively good. It's mostly Ian and Beth--and when I say that, it's Ian. Beth has kind of stopped being her own character which is kind of sad since I adored her in the The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Here, she's a supporting character whose primary and defining characteristic is being the center of Ian's world. That's fine, but now the character is just less interesting.
The story here is a dual one -- Ian is at Kilmorgan Castle when Hart's art collection is stolen, and Beth's brother-in-law (from her first marriage) arrives, wanting to help Ian with his madness. Both stories are good, even though I think the latter is probably better. The mystery is entertaining, but I felt like the ending was rushed.
The supporting cast is a little easier to take since the Mackenzies don't show up en masse until the very end of the book, and Daniel's appearance is at a minimum. I'm probably never going to recover from how much I did not like him in Wicked Deeds, which is a shame since he's all over this series. This is what happens when you read things with a critical eye. Lloyd is back and I'm happy to see him! I love him getting to deal with his half-brothers and approaching the mystery.
This is a solid book, but it's not spectacular, and the fact that Ian is really the only character makes it a little less fun for me since I come to romance novels for both sides of the romance. There's actually...no romance here. We're not even really revisiting characters--we're just spending more time with Ian. That's fine, but it's not what I'm here for.
I was actually surprised when I stopped to think about it how little romance is in this book. You can tell that Jennifer Ashley's other major genre is mysteries. Ian and Lloyd do a good job here of ferreting out the bad guys, but like I said, Beth's entire role in this book is to stand around and worry about Ian.
Ian and Beth are one of my favorite all time couples, so don't get me wrong. I love that Beth hasn't just "accepted" Ian's behaviors, but that she's embraced them, but I guess I wish it didn't seem like Beth is perfect. She struggled in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie a little, but here--it's just the way Ian is. Fine, but I don't know--she just didn't have anything to do.
I did like that Ian thought he should try to pursue a "cure" so that Beth could have a normal husband. I thought that was a realistic reaction to John Ackerley's offer to help him. I also love all three of their kids, and I definitely hope she writes stories about them. I want to read about Bella going to medical school and being a doctor. She'd come of age in the Edwardian era, even in the period right before WWI, and I would kill to read more novels during that time period.
I read this before I bought The Stolen Mackenzie for some reason, and I think it's one of the reasons I've never read it--we get a bit of the Malcolm and Mary story here, and I guess I'm not excited by what I know about them. I haven't read either of the Culloden Mackenzies yet so I guess we'll see if I end up kicking myself for waiting for so long.
Anyway, it's fine. But it's not a romance novella in the typical sense since Beth is, at best, a supporting character which is not what I want in my romance stories.
ETA: I want to kind of explain what I mean when I say there's no romance in this book. I mean there's no romantic conflict, no story for Ian and Beth. There should be. Ashley sets it up as though there will be--Ian pursues the cure because he wants to be a better husband for Beth. He ultimately decides not to be cured because his "madness" helped him track down Jamie after he was kidnapped. Beth attempts to make Ian understand that she likes him the way he is, but Ian doesn't get her point and then it doesn't come up again. So...Ian thought his madness made Beth's life more difficult, he wanted to make it better for her, but hey, there are some benefits, so that doesn't matter anymore.
For me, there wasn't a resolution to this story. A romance novel can absolutely have a second plot, like the art theft, but you don't get to call it the romance when there's no romantic story. And Ian and Beth as a happy married couple isn't enough. Beth doesn't DO anything to hold up a romantic plot. She wrings her hands over Ian, sleeps with him--she's completely passive. So, for me, there's nothing in this book that fulfills what I go to romance novels for.
The MacKenzie Clan Gathering (MacKenzies & McBrides, #8.5)
Note So my initial instinct was to read this before reading The Stolen Mackenzie Bride because this was the order in which I had bought the books back in 2015 (and now I feel really guilty ...