Ahhhh! Friday was nuts - I had paying work, and then there were groceries to do and all. I'd say it won't happen again, but who am I kidding? It will happen again.
Ok. Week one of Romance Novel month. I've decided on four sub-genres: Historical, Contemporary, Supernatural, and Suspense. This week's novel, Night of the Highland Dragon, is technically an historical romance, but I think the historical aspects take a decided second-place to the fantasy/supernatural elements. Plus, if I make this my supernatural, then I can use Johanna Lindsey as my historical for this week - so it's a win-win!
So. I've reviewed some of Isobel Cooper's work previously. I like her writing style and her literary sensibilities. I know Isobel from several online communities (although I've never met her in person - isn't the Internet the coolest thing? I really think it will catch on and go places...), and so it is interesting to see her voice come through in her published fiction. With that in mind, it is perhaps not a huge surprise that I quite enjoyed this book.
Let's unpack the genre a little, though. What are the key elements of a romance novel? Obviously, there has to be a central romance: boy meets girl, they fall in love (and get married/coupled) is more or less the driving focus of the literary form. William Arrundel and Judith MacAlasdair provide that critical role. William is a detective working for a special branch of the British government focused on supernatural crimes. Judith is an ancient dragon who can take the form of a human woman. Together, they solve crimes!
Second, there must be complications. It would not do for boy and girl to meet in chapter one, get married in chapter two, and be deliriously happy for the rest of the novel. (Getting married in chapter one is an acceptable plot opener, of course - it's the being deliriously happy part that must be avoided.) So - complications: William doesn't know that Judith is a dragon, and Judith doesn't know that William is a detective/secret agent. Oh, and William is investigating a murder which looks like a ritual sacrifice - and which might be sustaining the unnatural youth of a woman - is Judith a vampire (no, she's an ancient dragon, but William doesn't know that - you see how the plot thickens?). Also, social convention (which Judith disapproves of) prevents Judith from giving in to her desires, and she doesn't want to reveal that she is an ancient dragon.
Third, circumstances must allow the central couple to overcome the complications and succumb to their passion. I gather that earlier romance novels were coy about this, and there remain some genre conventions around describing the act of physical love. Cooper's sex scenes are a delight, with hot consent and lots of mutual respect and no rape-y overtones at all, yum. Also, well written, and anatomically plausible, so that's all good too.
Finally, I think that there should be an element of disposability to the works within the genre. That makes me sound all snobby, doesn't it? That's not really what I mean, though. The books should be a) good enough that you want to recommend/give them to a friend but b) not so timeless that you are upset when friend does not return them. These are popcorn books, though - you should be able to read them easily over a day or two, find them enjoyable (maybe even thought provoking), but be able to set aside after they are done - and that's actually not that easy to accomplish. Cooper does an exemplary job. Evidence? This is the third book in a series, and my library does not have books 1 or 2. There are obvious places in this book where books 1 and 2 could provide a little context (Judith has brothers - 2 of them! - and they have recently found love themselves!), but I feel no gaping lack of prior information. I AM intrigued by William's government agency, and I would love to see how he and Judith go forward in their approach to the presence of supernatural menace within the Empire - but only from the point of view of appreciating world-building and such. I would be happy to read further in this setting, but I won't be crushed if that never happens.
Anyway, if you like romance novels, and the Scottish highlands, and dragons, and supernatural mysteries, and passionate moments of consensual and mutually satisfying sex on British trains, then this book is a good fit for you.