• Deborah MB

The Rebel Wears Plaid, is female, and falls in love

The Rebel Wears Plaid is a historical romance written by American Eliza Knight, set at the beginning of the attempt to bring Bonnie Prince Charlie to power in Scotland. It tells us about Jenny Mackintosh, a Jacobite leader known as Mistress J, and Toran Fraser, a man with a personal vendetta against said Mistress J. As Toran is first physically captured by the rebels, then captured by Jenny’s beauty, courage, and devotion, he learns the truth about the true enemies, the British. For Jenny, it’s a journey into her femininity, as she discovers love and sex, an into her power, while becoming the laird of the clan.

Who would enjoy this

Eliza Knight specialises in historical romance, and that is exactly what this book delivers. Anyone familiar, and/or who enjoys the genre will appreciate The Rebel Wears Plaid, for it has all the elements required: historically dramatic period, check; spunky female lead breaking the mould, check; dashing rogue male lead, check; dastardly familiar foe, check; explicit sexual encounters, check. In general, this will fit in with any fans of Braveheart, Rob Roy, Highlander and Outlander.

It is also nicely paced, driving to a crescendo both in the political background action, and the main relationship plot. This makes the book an easy read for anyone looking for a bit of distraction over a few afternoons, without having to invest too much of themselves in the events or the characters. If you’re looking for a book without surprises, which you can judge by the cover, this is it.

Who should give this a pass

As can be expected from a book which fits its genre to a T, it will never be a good match for a reader unwilling to try such experiences, or who, having tried it, found it not to their taste. Also, if the story is chosen because the blurb makes one think it is an empowerment of women, think again. Jenny is a character constantly either in denial of herself, always trying to prove she’s better than the men around her (her brother, the English, even Toran), or completely devoted to men to meet their expectations (the memory of her father, the Prince, even her lover Toran).

Indeed, I think the main issue with The Rebel Wears Plaid is that it is exactly what it is supposed to be. Therefore, if the reader expects depth of history, it will leave them reeling. Same can be said for anyone expecting relatable relationship situations, characters, or similar. This is very clear fiction, in all its aspects except the period and some of the places described.

Conclusions and suggestions

I like romance books, and have been known to go through scores of them whenever I have the chance. I find them enjoyably easy to go through, not pretending to be something they are not. They are simple, optimistic, mindless fun reads. I am very grateful for the authors who create them for keeping alive the belief in love tropes, in happy endings, and in reading as a pastime. The problem is, the balance between such narratives and books with critical acclaim is very, very difficult. In fact, I consider it a very difficult achievement since most, if not all, writers want to create meaningful, relevant, engaging stories.

This is the very problem with The Rebel Wears Plaid. Its author, Eliza Knight, tried to create a heroine to the likes of the very real historical figures of female Scots rebel leaders, something I fully endorse, as they were impressive women indeed. The issue is that Ms Knight then attempted to fit such character into a format too restrictive for it, resulting in a heroine who is too fanatical about her beliefs, too childish. How else could Jenny be the sweet innocent who has to discover her heart in the arms of her hero? Her personal development in relationship to experiencing her sexuality, and the progression from kisses, to touches, to actual intercourse, is very nicely done. However, she has clearly no awareness of how idealistic she is in her following of a cause she inherited from her father, an ingenuity remarked upon by both her lover Toran and her cousin Dick after they have shared in the horrors of battle. Even as a laird, she shows no awareness of real politics, all her skill reserved to the chess board and the skirmishes with the local British garrison.

Throughout the tale, one cannot help but worry about the destruction her blinded obsession will bring to her clan – particularly knowing the disastrous end to the whole Jacobite revolution, and the true personality of historical Prince Charles. Since this is but one in a planned series I wonder how Ms Knight will address those issues. How will she bring a happy ending to events whose end will be dramatic and catastrophic for the main characters? Sadly, I don’t think I care enough about Miss Mackintosh (Mrs Fraser, laird of Mackintosh by the end of this volume, of course) to find out.

Let’s be clear, this is a good book: well written, well researched, well edited, and with good intentions. But we all can, always, improve. Here are some suggestions for anyone thinking of writing a similar book, or for the next volumes:

- Keep distance from the character. If the writer becomes too enamoured of their character, they will throw all the best characteristics at them, making them unlikable and weak. They end up being flat.

- Too perfect a person is as bad as a totally villainous one. If you are going for multidimensional characters, then main antagonists have to be as multi-layered as main leads. Otherwise, you have a cartoon baddie.

- If your main character is a strong female, don’t have a blurb focused on the male.

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