Summer Reading · Series Reviews

Series Review: Mackenzies & McBrides (Jennifer Ashley)

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie - Jennifer Ashley Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage - Jennifer Ashley


I went back to reread some of my reviews in this series since it took a  few weeks to read, and one of the opening lines in my review of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie kind of haunts me now:

I was drawn in by the unconventional hero, Ian, who is written as being on what we understand today as the autism spectrum. I loved every inch of this book, and Ian is one of the characters I enjoy following as he pops up again and again.

Wow, that is definitely an opinion I am going to revise now.

I had never done a full, top-to-bottom reading of this series. I’ve read maybe the first four or five books, maybe just the middle books, etc, but not from beginning to end, in chronological order, and this definitely changed my impression of the series as a whole.

While I have individual issues with each book and how they fit together, I have to preface this by saying this is an extremely well-written series of books and Jennifer Ashley, for all the things I’ve ranted about, is very good at what she does. You would not be sorry you read these books. I recommend them.

And it’s likely the things that irritate me won’t irritate most other readers. I think the major problem with the series is the way that Mackenzies show up in subsequent books. Ian and Daniel are in so many of these books and rarely serve a purpose. They actually end up being distracting.  There are times when I’m not sure I buy that the Mackenzies would be as involved with the McBrides as they end up being, but then I remember how controlling Hart is, and I let it go.

Other than that, the Mackenzies and McBrides are interesting Scottish family who get up to a lot of exploits, explore a lot of places (we spend time in Scotland, Paris, Marseilles, and Monte Carlo), and live a fast-paced life filled with art, music, politics, horses, and a lot of the fun in the mid Victorian era.

Objectively, the book with the most well constructed plot, romance, and characters is The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. It serves as an excellent introduction to the series and characters. It has a relatively tightly constructive narrative plot that remains focused on the murder mystery. While I like Ian and Beth less later on, it’s not because they become irritating. It’s that Ian is overused and Beth is a pale shadow meant to serve as a prop to Ian. Their kids remain interesting.

The best romance overall, however, is a tie between Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage and The Many Sins of Lord Cameron. Both stories have central narratives that drag a little, but the characters and romance are beautifully written and feel real.

As the series proceeds, the couples get weaker, but none of them are outright bad. I can’t find fault with any of the couples or suggest that no one really deserves the person they ended up with. The lowest point is probably The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie which is mostly because I reallllly don’t like Daniel. But Violet does, and I can’t come up with a good reason why she shouldn’t.

i judge the novellas less strictly because they’re shorter, and are almost always less developed than the full-length novels. I was relieved to read the Mackenzie Chronicles and see that Jennifer Ashley agrees with me that Lloyd Fellows deserves a full-length book. I hope she gets the rights back and is able to rewrite it.  The Untamed Mackenzie was good, so I can only imagine how much better it would be if were double the size.

The shift in time to the Georgian era and the 1740s with the Jacobite Uprising was a great idea to give everyone a bit of a breather. The time period is a personal favorite for me, and I really liked seeing the ambiguity with which the Mackenzies approached the Jacobite cause. I look forward to seeing how she’ll deal with it with Will’s book in the fall.

None of the books were bad, and most of them were excellent. That’s really the best thing you can say about a series and it’s the first series I’ve read for this project where I can objectively say that. Even though the overuse of Daniel and Ian is irritating, and I didn’t entirely connect with Daniel in his book, I would still read all of those books again and that’s the measure of a book for me.

Next up, Stephanie Laurens and the Bastion Club. This should be…interesting.

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