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I chose this book because it had garnered some rave reviews from readers so I was expecting a well written, fast paced page turner. Sadly, what I got was an intriguing and very different hero but one conceived by a writer incapable of doing justice to her initial idea.
It's well known throughout Victorian high society that Lord Ian Mackenzie is mad and that he spent much of his youth in an asylum until released by his brother, the Duke of Kilmorgan. It's also well known that he is an expert on porcelain, especially that of the Ming Dynasty. During the sale of a piece from his collection to Sir Lyndon Mathers, Lord Ian discovers that Mathers plans to marry a young heiress for her fortune. When Lord Ian meets Beth Ackerley, the heiress in question, he decides to tell her that the man with whom she is contemplating marriage is not only marrying her for her money but also leads a very debauched lifestyle and keeps a string of mistresses. Not only does he do this but also offers to marry Beth himself.
The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie is the first book in a series about a family of Scottish brothers living in Victorian England at the end of the nineteenth century. The author was a new one for me but this book consistenly received four and five star ratings from readers on various book sites so I expected an above average read. How wrong can a person be?
The probable reason for these ratings is that Jennifer Ashley has undoubtedly created a most unusual leading male protagonist in Lord Ian. Though I'm not an expert on the subject, the indications are all there that he suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, though as this is an historical novel, it's never named as such. This book is set in a time before much was known about the brain or how it worked and anyone who didn't conform to what was regarded as the norm was deemed to be mad and generally consigned to a lunatic asylum. I shudder to think how many people with treatable conditions endured years of misery because of our forebears lack of knowledge or compassion.
Lord Ian was sent away to an asylum by his father, the Duke of Kilmorgan, a cruel man who not only beat his wife and children but was responsible for his wife's death, witnessed by Ian. Once he died and Ian's brother, Hart, inherited the title, he was immediately released from the asylum and returned to his family home where he took his place in society and worked alongside his brother. His above average intelligence and near photographic memory made him an invaluable help in the running of the Kilmorgan estates. Ian's passion is porcelain, a subject on which he's an acknowledged expert, which is how he comes into contact with Beth Ackerley. Beth is the widow of an East End vicar and has recently inherited a fortune from her employer, making her the target for Sir Lyndon Mather, a debauched fortune hunter. Ian tips her off about Sir Lyndon's proclivities and offers to marry her instead. This prompts Beth to break off her engagement and rather than marry Lord Ian, she takes herself off to Paris. Lord Ian follows and before long convinces Beth to marry him.
From that point on the book lost all grip on reality and descended into slushy romance with very little to recommend it. There was very little plot and the whole book seemed to be an exercise in introducing the other Mackenzie siblings, all of whom were like no Scots you've ever come across. These are an American's idea of Scots so they all come complete kilts, flaming red hair, wild temperaments and with accents so broad, I wouldn't have been surprised if one of them had actually come out with a 'Hoots mon' occasionally.
Beth Ackerley, has absolutely nothing to recommend her as a heroine. She's supposedly pretty but other than that seems to have nothing to make Lord Ian immediately fall in love with her, which leads me to suppose he is mad after all.
As I said the plot is almost non-existent. There is something of a mystery to be solved and a Scotland Yard detective spends the entire novel following the Mackenzies around in a vain attempt to charge one or all of them with a murder they didn't commit. Ian and his valet, Curry, are supposed to be trying to solve the murder themselves and probably would have done so if our rather odd hero didn't keep stopping to either have erotic thoughts about the heroine or attempt to get her into bed. For someone who spent his formative years in an asylum, it has to be said that Lord Ian seems to be remarkably gifted in the bedroom department, though I did find some of the dialogue rather crude and totally unrealistic. I'm pretty sure no gently reared Victorian lady would respond to the question 'Are you wet' with 'Yes, I am a little damp.' At that stage, I began to wonder whether I was reading an historical romance or a comedy.
The concept of a hero with Asperger's Syndrome was a really good one, although sadly the author didn't have the necessary ability to follow through on this idea with any degree of realism. Lord Ian seemed to dip in and out of his condition at will. As if that wasn't bad enough, Jennifer Ashley also failed to provide any sense of time and place, although I will give her credit for keeping her English relatively un-American. In the hands of a more competent writer, this could have been a truly remarkable book.
If you do feel the need to read this book, used copies are available for £1.75 and it's available in Kindle format for £4.98.
I believe there are four or five more books in the series but on the strength of this one, I doubt very much that I'll be reading any of them.