The Highland Groom
Sarah Gabriel
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Buy *The Highland Groom* by Sarah Gabriel online

The Highland Groom
Sarah Gabriel
384 pages
December 2008
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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The Highland Groom is a little different from other Highland Romances that I've read. For a start, it's not about swordfights and reiving but instead about whisky distilling and smuggling. The author has clearly researched the making of whisky and infodumps quite a lot of detail at times throughout the book.

It is also, of course, a romantic story. Fiona MacCarran needs to marry a wealthy highlander (a request in her grandmother's will), so she travels to Glen Kinloch to teach at the school there, hoping that a rich highlander happens across her. Dougal MacGregor, laird of Kinloch, does happen across her, and he is a highlander but unfortunately not wealthy. In fact, he's heavily involved in smuggling whisky to try to earn enough money to buy his land back from the Crown. When the schoolteacher arrives he is instantly attracted to her, but her brother works for the excisemen so he tries to persuade her to leave. But Fiona isn't willing to be persuaded; she wants to find out more about highland fairies, and she likes the village. Can they have a future together?

This narrative is a bit of an oddity in terms of pacing. The initial chapter consists of Fiona and her brother, Patrick, explaining their situation to each other (to inform the reader) and feels a most unnatural conversation. After that great tranche of information is given, the book slows down considerably and meanders around as Dougal and Fiona meet each other, kiss each other, and Dougal tries to persuade her to leave. Fiona meets various MacGregor people, all of whom are involved in smuggling and seem pretty brazen about it. With various mentions of fairies and fossils, the story trudges on until the unlikely final scene where Fiona is in some danger.

The setting is interesting, and the information about the whisky distilling is unusual. Other aspects are a bit dodgy, including American speech patterns from the mouths of 17th-century highlanders ('fall' for autumn, 'likely' in place of probably, etc). There is no tension in the romance which means that it isn't particularly memorable, and neither main character rings particularly true. I also struggled with the author's intent with regard to honor and integrity - are the lies that the characters tell each other acceptable? What about the illegality of the smuggling? Was it fair to set Fiona against her brother and his duty as a gauger? These questions were never satisfactorily answered for me.

The Highland Groom isn't a bad book, although the fairy aspect didn't work for me and the over-emphasis on all things whisky got a bit tiresome. However, it isn't very memorable, a little too uneven in its execution to make it class as a good read.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Helen Hancox, 2009

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